I will tell you something about stories
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
All we have to fight off
illness and death.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.
Their evil is mighty
but it can’t stand up to our stories.
So they try to destroy the stories
let the stories be confused or forgotten.
They would like that
They would be happy
Because we would be defenseless then.
He rubbed his belly.
I keep them here
Here, put your hand on it
See. It is moving.
There is life here
for the people.
And in the belly of this story
the rituals and the ceremony
are still growing.
– Leslie Marmon Silko (Ceremony)
* * * * * * * * * *
It’s an odd time we live in, relative to the time humanity’s been humanity. We’re different in the stories we tell, in our demand to be entertained. We don’t recognize stories as Story, we call them Truth or fiction (lies), we pick them up and drop them again. Our stories come and go so fast that we don’t learn them, we call them news. We learn to ignore them. It’s hard to see if ritual and ceremony are still “growing in the belly.”
Who passes down stories in families any more? I don’t mean family stories, per se, but stories of ourselves nonetheless. Maybe it’s a result of being a literate society, we find our stories in books. Or on TV. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, but I think it causes us to think that deep stories are separate from ourselves – they have to be in print, on paper or pixels, in order to be meaningful. How much is memorable, though, in the end? Is there life “here, for the people”?
Meanwhile, among the small talk, we learn to tell small stories to ourselves about ourselves. My self-story, for some reason planted early into my psyche, was that my life had no story. That I was just a product of 1970s American suburban upbringing. Nothing to see here, move along.
“We are…less damaged by the traumas of childhood than by the traumatic way we remember childhood as a time of unnecessary and externally caused calamities that wrongly shaped us,” says James Hillman in The Soul’s Code.
But what about those of us whose childhoods seemed boring, fruitless, not full of trauma (real or imagined) except in how being given only the surface of things is traumatic? I think Hillman is right to say this, “Our lives may be determined less by our childhood than by the way we have learned to imagine our childhoods.” The 1970s and 80s, suburban sprawl, school days, highways – all imagined, all imaginal and as such, full of Story. I have long denied them their right, have denied meaningfulness out of distaste.
I think I write merely to find Story. Every story I tell, whether in fiction, non-fiction, poetry or drawing, is a search for a line, a thread of meaning, for something coherent. I believe that somewhere there must be signal in the noise.
As of today there are 6.8 million google hits for “I am a writer.” It’s the most commonplace thing in the world, it seems (almost one hit per ten existing human beings). Some writers become authors, some make a living at it. Some are entertainers, others keep their writings private (by choice or by inability to overcome the celebrity-to-crowd ratio). Part of me sees the rightfulness in there being many story tellers, many makers of Story, and in the proof that we’re all creative. Part of me quivers at what it perceives as my lack of imagination (to create) and gumption (to share, or to promote)), at the sense that this has to be a competition for market value. Oh dread.
Meanwhile, the thread holds and I keep writing, here, in journals, notebooks, computer files. Aren’t there enough words out in the world already? Maybe, but Story needs to be told.
I finished re-reading Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony yesterday and am encouraged to keep finding my own ways of telling stories – telling the story in the way it needs to be told, even if it’s not the way it would have been told in the “old days” IS the ritual and the ceremony that can heal and make whole.
I needed to be reminded.
What do you know about stories and Story?
Can you hear what it is we’re whispering to ourselves? Does our entertainment tell us something deeper about ourselves?
What stories about your life have you had to let go?
Do stories help?