In case you haven’t gathered, let me enlighten you: I love telling stories.
I also love hearing stories. Share with me whenever you like. I have a special affinity toward stories. Maybe it’s mostly the “little girl who related to the world mostly through books from age 7 onward” part of me, but I also think that people are just wired for stories. Statistics lose to narratives 99% of the time, in a not-at-all-researched poll.
I have lots of stories from my life. My good friends have heard most of them, and they’ve even created a category of their own for the stories I tell. They’re called the “Laura Story.”
The basic components of a Laura Story are these: 1. An elaborate build-up that gives context (and that some people find annoying *cough*Alex*cough* but that I think is necessary). 2. Some kind of interpersonal misunderstanding, usually based on politeness or hesitance to be rude. 3. The aftermath.
When I studied in India, my friends and I spent a night at the end of the term around a bonfire, telling tales of what had happened over the course of the term. And at one point it turned into Laura Stories. Because there was the one in which I got a massage au naturel and the one with the desert and the nomads and the camel and the one with the side-of-the-road kebab diner and it soon occurred to everyone that they each had their own story that went in an absurd direction, each including and/or to some degree starring me.
I’d say I don’t do this on purpose but it wouldn’t be entirely true.
Because, like I say, I love stories. And I’m aware, on a deep level, that every person’s life is a story. The savvy ones realize that they can tell the story themselves. Everyone else waits around for a narrator and for events to take them where they will. I happen to be someone who, at a fairly early age, realized that I could make my life what I wanted it to be by controlling its story.
On the simplest level it’s about not fearing experience. It’s about choice. It’s about going to the party that makes you nervous, about challenging yourself to jump off the diving board, about taking risks, and about trusting that you’ll make it through if things don’t turn out as you’ve planned. Let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to do these things when you’ve read plenty of stories about people losing more, faster and more deeply than you, and when you see how they come out of it all right. I owe a great debt of storytelling and of living to the thousands of books I’ve read that gave me context for what was the worst that could happen to me if I took a chance.
On the next level, and this is the important stuff, you need to realize something: You’re the narrator of your story.
Every human being has a story. Your story can go from decades before you were born to your first conscious memory to the present, or it can start yesterday. The beautiful thing is that you get to decide. No one else cares about your story the way you do, until you choose how you’re going to tell it. And this is an amazing opportunity, because I’m a firm believer that the stories we tell and the stories to which we pay attention shape who we are as people.
Every day we’re faced with the choice of what story we’re going to tell about our lives. Is today tragic because we have to go to work in the face of some dire occurrence in our personal lives, or is it comedic because situations just get more and more potentially awkward and sitcom-like? Is my most embarrassing moment mortifying or hilarious? Is my latest social faux pas something to giggle about or something to feel nauseous about?
You always have the choice here. You’re the one who makes the situation awkward or who decides it’s not awkward. You get to choose the frame for your own personal narrative. Of course you need to feel the feelings you’re going to feel, but I’ll tell you a secret: You can be sad about something in the moment and see the humor in it at the same time. You can take something completely seriously while realizing how ludicrous it sounds. And ultimately, the processing you do serves to help you fit what happened to you into your story. If your story is about you triumphing over the dictates of society and you’re trying to fit in your year of servitude to the corporate hegemony and your ultimate termination, it might take a week or a few months or so, but you can trust that it will be, at some point, what it needs to be: a Temptation in the Desert story.
Is this valid? Let me ask you this: What do you prefer, a true story, or a real story?
A true story is exactly what happened. A real story is one that you feel deep down to be right. They’re not mutually exclusive. However (wow I’m not equipped to discuss reality and narrative theory right now, bear with me), if you accept that every individual human being interprets his or her own reality through his or her own mind and frame and past experience, if you’re not Platonic and you don’t know that there’s an objective Truth, you may begin to see what I’m getting at. I’m skeptical of the independent individual’s ability to completely comprehend any situation. There are too many individual consciousnesses, too many unacknowledged influences, too many factors at work for any one person to fully get what’s going on.* What I believe matters most, on an individual or, in times of cohesion, on a collective level, is what story people tell about their lives and the larger picture. Whether it’s a story of rebellion or a story of defense and conservation and protection, a story of individuality or a story of community. Stories have power, and when we realize that we can shape the story of our lives, we have that power.
So what’s my story? So far it’s the story of an imaginative young woman who wanted to move other people, who has herself been touched by fiction and nonfiction both speculative and naturalistic, who can’t always bring herself to shut down those who want something from her and who finds her way into ridiculous situation after ridiculous situation with a healthy appreciation for how absurd life can be.
It’s a story I’d be happy to read. I hope yours is one you’d like to read, or to be told, as well.
*Fight me on this when I’m not tired. I’ll take you on.