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A Storybook Tale in Greensburg

There is one storytelling device that, when used well, draws a reader (or viewer, or listener) deeper into a tale than any other, and gives it an immediacy: the story within a story.

Story within a story works so well because it authenticates by adding subtle layers of complexity – just like what we see in our own lives. It’s everywhere, from Nabokov to Kaufman.

What’s this got to do with the environment? Well, I was going to do another green story for this week’s blog entry, about the town of Greensburg, Kansas. It’s a true story but one that reads as though it came out of Hollywood: A small town is decimated by a tornado. In the aftermath, the community comes together determined to rebuild. They don’t sit back and wait for help, but take the lead by deciding to create a place that can serve as a model of sustainability for the rest of the country, and the world.

Compelling enough all by itself, right? But as I researched it, a story within a story emerged. And this one, too, sounds like it could’ve come from a screenwriter’s imagination but is a real-life account. And as I read it, I realized nothing I could say in my little retelling could approach the understanding you get of Greensburg upon reading about Emily Schlickman and Mason Earles.

Their inside story – and how lovingly it’s told by the writer – draws you in and makes you understand the overarching tale of Greensburg better than any statistics or interviews. The more cynical among you may find it hokey – on one of my particularly snarky days, I might be with you.

But today I happen to be feeling optimistic. And the tale of Emily and Mason is the story within the story that gives Greensburg immediacy, and should give us all hope.

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“A Storybook Tale in Greensburg”