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McAbee: The pygmy marmoset conundrum

I read recently that a story can be defined simply as a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. For example, there’s a princess in a tower and a prince who wants to marry her. If the prince walks into the castle, climbs the stairs and the princess responds with her unfailing love and they live happily ever after, kinda boring.

But, if the prince has to fight a dragon, swim a moat, scale the castle wall while avoiding the arrows of guards, duel with several other suitors, and almost dies of malaria on his way to the tower, then we have the makings of a good story.

Now, if the prince slays the dragon and then upon approaching the moat says, “Boy, I’m really not in the mood for a swim. I don’t want to get my clothes wet and those alligators look menacing. I think I’ll just return home to my sow.” Then we have just another forgettable character in a story that will never be told. We don’t remember people like that.



My friends John and Linda lost their son a year ago last month. At first, all they wanted was their son back. Over time, they found that they really wanted themselves back. Their faith helped them know that their son was “in a better place.” With that understanding she said to me, “I’m Linda again.” For those who don’t know Linda, read warm, kind, caring, and smiling.

“It was the worst year of my life.”



Good story.

I asked some students at the high school what they wanted really bad and what they had overcome or were willing to overcome to get it. In true Summit County form, Jonah told me about his snowboarding progression.

“When I’m, like, trying to learn a new trick, I have to deal with the fear and the uncertainty. The crashes hurt, sometimes.”

“Yeah, they do,” I said. But when he lands a trick he’s never done before, how sweet is that?

Some students like Emily, don’t speak from experience necessarily but speak about some future desire. When I posed the question to her she said,

“I want a pygmy marmoset monkey.”

“A what?”

“A pygmy marmoset monkey. They’re rare and tiny. They fit in the palm of your hand, but people can own them as pets.”

“Why?”

“Because they’re afraid of other people, get attached to their owner and cling to you really tight because they know you. It’s really cute.”

“And what do you have to overcome to get this pygmy marmoset monkey?”

“I have to watch our two cats for a year.”

I’m not a cat person. I stood horrified and thought that nothing could be worth that.

“How’s the cat watching going?”

“I haven’t started yet.”

“Do you know why your parents want you to look after the cats before you get a pygmy marmoset monkey?”

“They want to see if I can handle the responsibility.”

Time will tell if Emily is up for this challenge. First, she’ll have to weigh her desire to own a monkey with her parents’ not unreasonable demand. If she decides monkey ownership is worth it and commits herself, then who knows what else life will throw at her to prepare her to have a pygmy marmoset monkey. Good luck, Emily.

A lot of students used lack of money as the biggest challenge standing between them and their goals. It’s important to note that money is a barrier and not a conflict worthy of a good story unless, to get the money you need, you have to find a treasure map, head to the Caribbean, dive in shark-infested waters and dig for pirate’s gold while drug warlords shoot spear guns at you. Really, when was the last time you saw a heroic character abandon his mission because he couldn’t get funds from the ATM?

Another barrier that keeps us mortals from living a great story is rejection and the fear thereof. Katie, a senior at SHS, wants to go to a Third World country because she wants to see if she has what it takes to work in the nonprofit world after college. However, she’s been turned down for a seemingly perfect opportunity in El Salvador. Rejection can be a conflict of the inner kind which, when overcome, makes a great story.

Twenty-eight different publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’ first book before it was printed. 400 million copies and counting now. Hang in there, Katie.

If you have your eye on some prize, then expect some backlash and conflict. That is, if you want to live the good story. It’ll help you when you’ve swum the moat and now are faced with scaling the castle wall. To not expect the conflict would be like climbing Everest and not expecting the cold.

Just the other day, I had a craving for the delicious local fruit of the pine. El pinon, the pinyon, the pine nut. Only this nut would complete the soup I was making at home. Despite the tremendous expense, I braved light wind, coolish temps and several stoplights looking for this delicacy. I drove to three different grocery stores before I finally found them.

OK, this may not sound like a great story – until I tell you about the tiny band of conquistadors brandishing swords and lances that I had to fight along the way.

Jeff McAbee lives in Breckenridge. He’s a campus supervisor at Summit High School.


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