Every word is a story.
Every word has within itself the substance of story, and often many stories.
The word cat is not the cat it represents, and the actual cat is not a word or a story except that I must use words and story to tell you of an actual cat. “Cat” signifies, indicates, portrays and represents the actual cat but El Gato has full existence apart from any word used to refer to it.
Words are simple symbols – language itself is a word about words, and metaphor a word describing is some small way how we humans make sense and discover meaning and assign value. Sentences and paragraphs are more complex than words, but are nonetheless made of entirely of words and are therefore also story.
Out “there” are facts. As soon as a “fact” enters into a human mind, it is no longer a fact, it is only a symbol for a fact – just as the actual cat is not ever the word cat. We do not have facts in our brains, we have stories about facts, representations of things we believe to be actual and true. The vast majority of us trust our brains to provide truth to us yet no one has really solved the “brain in the vat” conundrum – it remains a possible fact. Few actually believe they are a brain in a vat and yet none can offer any solid evidence to disprove the assertion when it gets made every 3rd new moon. If we were a brain in a vat, there is no reason why we should every discover it was so and no method to prove it is not so.
All we have are our experiences. Every bit of experience, every brush of soft against skin and every bouncing of sunlight across the eye, is a story now that I try to recount it to you. Every experience is a memory only a moment later and no longer exists except in a story. Everything you have ever heard and seen and felt and believed and agonized over and fumed at and wept with – all of it amounts to a story about you. This story acts like a railway around the bend of your future – it influences you powerfully to react and respond and prepare in fairly specific ways – and yet it is a story.
You can also think of an equation as a story – every moment you are alive, there are additions and subtractions and divisions which ever expand the equation which is your existence. Who and what you are at this very moment is the sum on the other side of the = sign. Next you may add a fraction of a whole number, or multiply the whole thing by 23 – the equation grows and “Who I Am” is subject to change with every moment of experience appended to the equation.
Stand along side a small lake.
Pick up a stone.
Throw the stone into the lake.
Ask what just happened.
It is surely imperceptible, but we know, if only by faith, that the level of the lake was raised by your action. Your presence on this earth may sometimes feel just as imperceptible, but we know, if only by faith, that one individuals story is now not only included but indispensable to the overall grand story of Life.
We refer to our stories as “true” – and I believe that most all of them are in some way, even those which recount a fable or a dream or a rumor. Dr. Seuss’ stories contains an unfathomable many buckets of truth, and yet neither a Sneech nor a Lorax ever tangled with my actual cat.
“Good” stories almost always have a bad guy – and sometimes the very worst bad guy makes for the very best story. It is rarely the reverse, and even when the bad guy wins in the end of the story, it is questionable just how much bad he actually was.
All art is storytelling. Music, imagery, poetry, dance and anything else you may wander across that qualifies to be called by the word “art” is itself a symbol of human experience. It may not be beautiful in every beholders eye, but I sense that that was the hope filling the creator-artist as they art’d. To experience Beauty is respond to a representation of shared meaning, shared value, shared Life. It can almost be recursive – experiencing beauty will often drive us to create beauty in order to experience beauty.
It is hard to use the word “fact” in the same sentence as the word “beauty” – like nailing jello to a wall some might say – they are very different kinds of story. This suggests that perhaps fact is only a small part of the human experience, and if this is so, it explains our behavior far less … than we would like to confess … while walking in public … with our clothing wrapped and tied around us. Beauty and Goodness and Truth, while far from unreasonable, are not exactly the product of logic or rationality (two other stories some of us adorn ourselves with regularly if only because they are the fashion of the day. The colors of logic and rationality go together like shades of purple but clash horribly with the orange of a new day’s hope.) and this parenthetical notion really becomes the point i have to make…
All we have are stories. They are like clothing to us, protective, comfortable, fashionable, silly and expressive at times, marketing material at others. Before goth even became a thing I used to wear all black all the time. Black shorts in summer, black jeans in winter. Always a black concert t-shirt with some metal band’s logo. I was telling my story with the clothes I wore. I still do. My clothing choices, and the pictures on my walls, and the books in my library, and the car that I drive and the places that I visit and the friends I call friends – all tell a story about who I am, what I value, where I find meaning. It’s all very subtle of course.
Story is all I have. But let me tell you another’s story. I heard it from a friend of a friend – neither of whom I will ever meet – about a man I’ve never met. This was told to me as a “true” story, but it is not my own direct experience. There was a man who was becoming a famous golfer. Perhaps he was not as good as Tiger Woods, but as the story goes, he was getting there. Then he went to war (presumably not by his own choice in those days) and ended up a Prisoner of War in some small box of shit and piss and torment. Twelve years he survived the tiny spaces of hell. The first thing he did when released was to hit the 18 holes. You might expect that his golfing skill was diminished – and it was – but only a little, far far less than anyone might rationally expect. The reason why he was still able to out-golf most people after twelve years in a P.O.W. camp was that golfing was the story he told himself about himself every day in captivity. He played his favorite golf course in his mind every single day, imagining the movement of his muscles and bones, visualizing the terrain, the swinging club, the flying ball. The story of practice was nearly as effective as actual practice. This has a lot to tell us about the whole mind-body connection, which I find fascinating, but my point here is obviously about something else.
“If life is a game”, someone said, “let’s play”. Realize that story is all you have, and then feel the freedom the realization provides – you are in large part the story you are telling yourself about yourself. You are likely also the story other people tell about you – those close to you, those who raised you to believe story in the first place, even those who dislike you have a story about you which you can choose to believe and follow. If your life is but a story, you can allow others tell it for you, or you can tell it yourself. Be careful though because “I’m going to tell my own damn story!” is someone else’s story. Remember that the non-conformist is conforming to non-conformity. Let that sink in a while… Letting others tell your story is not a bad thing – it can be good and beautiful and even truthful. If there are people who love you, their story about you likely has great value. There are also people who would use you, twist you to their own ends – I will suggest that you edit their version of your story into the dustbin before you believe it like a fool.
Allow me to make you mindful of the fact that you have stories about the people around you, those close to you, and those far away, those which smell very much like you, and those which trigger your natural xenophobia – and your story about them is not without consequence. A story about your brother or your sister which is really a story about hatred is going to be followed through to the end of the story – as all stories eventually will reach their own logical end. Remember that the characters in the movies which are the most proficient at contempt, die by the hatred of another. The bomber terrorists get their spectacular end in a fiery explosion, and the poisoner dies in a grotesque struggle against their own weapon of choice. “Live by the sword, die by the sword” is a story we are all (overly-) familiar with. It is a come-around-go-around kinda world, and sometimes its a very short trip around. You not only get to make choices about the story you tell and follow about yourself, you get the same choice with everyone around you. Love is going tell Good Story – perhaps not free of bad shit happening – but it will be about goodness on it’s way to it’s own logical end.
It also stands to reason that the greater the love someone has for you, the better their story of you is going to be. It may only be some aunt or uncle in a far away country writing letters to you, telling you how much they love you even though you were a baby last time you saw them. If their love is genuine, the story which accompanies it should have great value to you – follow it, keep that story wrapped around you to protect you, to comfort you, and to share it with others.
“If life is a story,” I am saying “tell it, and tell it from love”