Friday, July 09, 2010

The Story of Stories

cover story

sto·ry (\ˈstȯr-ē\)
1. history
2. an account of incidents or events; a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question; anecdote, especially an amusing one
3. a fictional narrative shorter than a novel, specifically short story; the intrigue or plot of a narrative or dramatic work
4. a widely circulated rumor
5. lie, falsehood
6. legend, romance
7. a news article or broadcast
8. matter, situation
– Merriam-Webster dictionary

Whether they’re rooted in reality or spun using the yarns of imagination, stories intersect our paths everywhere we go. Perhaps the length and depth of the word’s very definition sheds some light on the power of the concept and offers an explain as to why we can’t talk, write, or even think without telling a story. In fact, our lives are even more intertwined with stories than we may realize…

The stories in life
“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” – Muriel Rukeyser
No matter who we are or where we come from, stories invariably weave an intrinsic pattern into the fabric of our existence. They accompany us in various forms through our journey from start to finish. As children, we venture into fantasy worlds borrowed from the pages of fairytales or created by our parents, till we are ourselves old enough to dive into the realms that can be found on printed sheets and display screens, and travel through the lands that have been created for us by those who excelled in the art of storytelling. As we grow up, we get a chance to learn more about people through the stories they tell us: we get to know our parents by their retelling of real accounts of the mischief they got into and imaginary tales of how they were as good as gold when they were our age; we get to know our grandparents and great-grandparents and the times they lived in based on the stories that are passed on to us; and we learn to appreciate the generations that came before us by finding out about things that happened several lifetimes ago. Stories also tell us about all that is happening now, not just in the lives of the people we know, but the world at large, by giving us a current look at the globe – skewed or otherwise – and providing an approximation of what is going on in distant lands and faraway places.
It is through all these aspects that stories provide us a way of understanding who we are, where we come from and where we are going, and give us a sense of the world we live in and the people around us. And as we trace the path of our – or someone else’s – thoughts, they give us a chance to take a peek into our imaginations, express what we wish the world was (or wasn’t) like, and see how far our minds can take us.
Whether we’re watching a television series or even an advertisement, looking at a picture, listening to a song, or reading a history book, a gossip magazine, a newspaper, a best-selling fiction novel, our sibling’s secret diary, or a friend’s blog, stories are giving us a chance to learn about incidents we’ll never experience and people we’ll never meet. Yet they do much more than that, for they let us share with each other what we’re going through in our own life, for aren’t our lives nothing but a chain of interconnected stories that together form the narrative of our existence?

The stories of life
“Six billion of us walking the planet, six billion smaller worlds on the bigger one. … Six billion stories, every one an epic, full of tragedy and triumph, good and evil, despair and hope.” – Dean Koontz
Our lives may not have inspired a film or a song, or appear to be nearly as exciting as that of a character in a novel, but that does not change the fact that each and every one of us has a story, or rather a whole series of stories, that have led us to where we are now. We have a starring role in the sitcom/soap opera/dramedy of our life, while simultaneously playing supporting parts of various magnitudes in the life stories of the people we interact with – for some we’ll be the often present wingman or sidekick (or possibly even the antagonist); for others we might play a passing role and barely warrant a mention; and for the remaining we might not even make the footnote. At times we might even chose to play certain roles in order to figure out where we belong so that some day we can eventually find our happy ending.
There are tales behind our joys, sorrows, anger, despair, love, hate and a myriad of other emotions, and each experience forms a chapter or episode in our story. These tales may change meaning with time as we re-evaluate events – we may realize that the same thing that once triggered despair now elicits hope – but they will always continue to mould our lives.
And yes, all of us might not be penning our tales down and giving them the shapes of books or songs, but we are still constantly relaying our stories simply through our existence. Our story is unfolding in front of those around us, and it is being passed on to the rest of the world though our actions and words. Even the most cursory conversation we have with someone is likely to contain at least a snippet of a story. And as long as we live (and perhaps even after we’re gone) we will forever be part of stories, and will continue to send our stories out into the world and watch as they become a whisper down the lane.

The life of stories
“She realized as a girl of eight that if she sat down and wrote her stories, she could escape the parts of life she didn't like, embroider the parts she did and thus control the life she had.” – Dudley Clendinen
Whether they’re told in less than 140 characters or take over a thousand pages, stories provide a mirror to the storyteller’s thoughts and feelings. Even as they evolve with each retelling, they incorporating a part of each of the persons they travel through, and then hang around to reshape our reality. They put life in context, narrate history, and propel change in society; they help us recount our accomplishment and achievements, and give us a way to at least momentarily escape from the realities that become too harsh; and they help us connect with others, reassuring us that we’re not alone in our tribulations.
But ultimately, after we’ve defined them, they define us. Stories from our past continuously interfere with our present: they become the lenses through which we filter our worldviews – even something as seemingly innocuous as a piece of fiction can change our views and thoughts, and may even alter our perspective on our very existence; they form the unit of memories, giving us an anchor to recognize people as we file each incident in the relevant filing cabinet of our mind; and they shape our imagination, which in turn leads us to come up with even more tales. It is no wonder that very often a story has another story behind it, for it is our thoughts and dreams that lead us to parts of our imaginations we have never visited before where we stumble upon fascinating yarns that some will enjoy in solitude, while the more vocal of us will creatively transform into narratives that will be available to anyone who wishes to voyage through them.
All in all, stories become a part of us as we become a part of them, and just as they helped steer the people who came before us down the road of life, they will continue to accompany each of us on our journeys forevermore.

- By S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - July, 2010