Discussion: Is your life a story?

The importance of stories to humans cannot be overstated.  Well perhaps it can, but I’ve yet to see anybody succeed yet. 🙂  I’ve written about the importance of stories before.  My interest in the subject began when reading the novels Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss.  It is clear that we learn from stories.  In fact it is often suggested that as a method of pedagogy that we try to create narratives, try to use storytelling to teach.  I’ve yet to find a way to do this with fluid dynamics, but when I think about how I retain knowledge best, it is certainly the ability to think in terms of stories, rather than a lose collection of facts.  When teaching, even if you don’t have a story to tell, trying to create a common thread through your lessons does help.

A former student, and now friend, would often start a conversation with people she was just meeting and getting to know with the question “Tell me the story of your life.”  I think it’s pretty easy to see our lives as a story.  I am not sure though that this is something we do when we are adolescents.  Perhaps we haven’t lived long enough, and it is unclear when this process begins, but at some point you will look at the past and forecast into the future and there will seem to be this story you are playing out.

But is this a good way of thinking about our lives?  Sometimes I think we do this because it seems more interesting, and even though I still think there is a lot of values to stories, perhaps we shouldn’t be seeing our own life as a story.

Some philosophical meat to think about here is are you the same person in the past as you are in the future?  Stories tend to follow a particular character who may change, but rarely as much as actual humans do.  Is your 20 year old self the same as your 60 year old self?  Maybe at best we are a series of shorter stories instead of one long story.  Our desire for continuity and cause and effect perhaps extends the narrative for longer than it perhaps should.

More importantly when we think our life in terms of a story do we then sometimes predict the ending?  Do we limit ourselves by having expectations based on this narrative we have about our lives?  In a recent podcast I listened too, they profiled a family who had a story of their life.  They were beekeepers, and when tragedy struck and it all came to an end, they could see themselves any other way.  What they had been doing for 40 years was who they were.  Their house decorated with bees.  How do you change the story when life takes an unexpected turn?  It can be very difficult to find happiness or contentedness when expectations do not match the reality of your situation.  This podcast also did another episode where they talked about changing your story and how doing that can help us move on.  We might find inspiration in others who have changed the story of their lives, we may also become limited by others who assume that we can’t change our story.  Perhaps we have no choice but to see our lives as a story, and if we are going to do that, perhaps we just need to learn how to better hijack that process to write those new chapters that can take the story into a different direction.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject?  Do you think of your life as a story?  Do you think it’s good or bad that you do?  Have you had to change your story unexpectedly?  Was it difficult?

There is a nice discussion on the topic on another podcast I listen to if you are interested in thinking about this subject more.

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What’s your story?

In my previous blog post I posited the idea that every moment in one’s life maybe is as remarkable as the next.  But even if this were the absolute truth, it doesn’t change the fact that most of us simply don’t behave this way.  We are emotional beings and so it’s not surprising that in times of great joy, sadness, anger, excitement (or what emotion we might be feeling in the extreme) those moments are going to make a stronger impression.  The physiological response is immense when we feel emotion very strongly and the fact is, certain things are always going to “stick out” in our memories more than others.

Going beyond the biology, I think that humans have a real attraction to stories.  I wrote a blog post on this importance of stories so I will not repeat myself

From http://fueldabook.com

here, but I think that it is safe to say that we are all rather attached to the story of our own life.   We really want our lives to have a good story.  Some people embellish things to make their own story better.  Some people don’t think much of the story of their life compared to ones they read in books or see in movies.  I guess I might be that type of person.  I often worry about what kind of stories I will tell my son about my life given I was always fascinated by my own father’s stories of how he left India and traveled across much of Europe along his way here.  And of course there is also a bit of an art to telling stories.  There is an art to drawing an audience in and perhaps it always requires a little bit of embellishment as well (A good movie concerning this is Big Fish starring Ewan McGregor. Great movie!).  In Patrick Rothfuss’ book A Wise Man’s Fear (his series, The King Killer Chronicles are really a celebration to stories and storytelling) the main character tells a story of a poor hungry beggar who has no luck finding compassion amongst many of the cultural groups in his world until he finds a group of people that are the main character’s origin who are traveling musicians, performers, and story tellers.  They offer the poor man food and a place to sleep and even invite him to stay and join with them on their travels.  The man finds it hard to accept for he has nothing to give back for their generosity.  They simply reply that he has a story to tell, the story of his own life, and thus a story they have never heard before.  They value stories and thus to them it is more than a fair trade.  So I think we would all do well to remind ourselves that we really all do have at least one story to tell…our own.  And that story is like no one else’s.

I wonder if there is a connection to what we think about the story of our own life and our self-esteem?

Regardless of what we think of our own story, I think that inside we really want our story to be amazing and so we have a tendency to look at something like

A scene from Big Fish (www.boxofficeprophets.com)

the chain of events described in my previous post as amazing, improbable, and perhaps as though we are playing are part in a fate that has been laid out by a supernatural being given how amazing and improbable the events are.  Personally I think that existence as a whole is likely improbable, but here we are anyway.  Love is probably the most intense and wonderful of emotions we experience and so it is no wonder that are desire and attachment to stories involving love are so strong. Whether it is love lost or love found, it doesn’t matter.  This is a story we can all relate to since it is such a strong part of the human experience.  I think that our attraction to the love story is ultimately why arranged marriages and on-line dating are ultimately unsatisfying, because even if those do end up in love, the beginning of the story seems probable, mechanical, and thus uninteresting.

I shall leave you with a wonderful song about stories that lead to love.  I hope you all think about your story today, and I hope you find some good in it.  The best part about our own stories is that we really never know how it’s going to end.  If we knew, that would take all the fun out of it. 🙂

The Whole Story

Who doesn’t love a good story? We see it television, in movies, and in books. We all love good stories told around a campfire, around the dinner table. We love writers and directors and people who can weave a good story together. Are stories just something that purely are for entertainment if they are fiction, and education if they are true? Is there any such thing as a true story (and if there is, is it exciting enough to listen to)? Is there any such thing as a fictional story?

There are plenty of people I’m sure who have addressed this topic, so I don’t think I am coming up with anything new here. The value of stories and storytelling has been on my mind ever since I read Patrick

From kkc.wikia.com

Rothfuss’ two books The Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear. The main character in that book is from a group of people that are somewhat gypsy like. They live their lives on the road traveling from town to town putting on performances of plays, telling stories, acrobatics, and playing music and singing songs. They are performers. The main plot of the series (which is not finished yet and I’m anxiously awaiting the 3rd and final book in the series) is that the main character is trying to determine the truth behind a traumatic childhood incident (don’t want to give too much away). The source of the traumatic event was something that he heard as a story and thought it was just a myth, something not real, and thus when this myth does seem real he questions his own memory of the event, since he was a child and could possibly have just made a story fit what he witnessed, or did it really happen. As this main character grows and travels he hears more stories from different cultures and different people. Stories are always slightly different because good storytellers exaggerate a bit here and there and of course stories generally change throughout time as they get passed down and pass from region to region. taking on aspects of the culture they move into. In a way the main character is learning about what’s real through what everyone thinks are fictional stories. Taking bits and pieces from all the different stories and putting it together into a narrative that might explain what happened to him as a child. The books represent masterful storytelling themselves, but the author really hits home the value of stories in general. The main character states at one point “There is truth to every story”.

Truer words were never spoken.

Fiction is defined as:

1. a. An imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.
b. The act of inventing such a creation or pretense.
2. A lie.
3. a. A literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact.
b. The category of literature comprising works of this kind, including novels and short stories.

Even the most damning definition of fiction here “A lie” can carry with it truth.  If you know someone is lying you might know then that the opposite is true.  You might know that to find truth more investigation is needed.  You might try to understand why I’m lying and learn something about why people lie. I think we need to be mindful that this doesn’t necessarily mean that there still isn’t any truth to be found within the context of our imagination. And I think everybody sort of gets that, but for a while I was heavily into non-fiction because I was like I have so much to learn, and I still do, but I think in my mind I had forgotten sort I also decided to write about this today because of an article I read recently regarding stories and how they impact our view of the world. For instance if we are old stories about violence repeatedly this may skew our view of how prevalent violence is.  The article has many more thought provoking ideas than that, but the gist is that stories shape our lives, because we do search for meaning in every story and when we read only one kind of story all the time, whether it is non-fiction, a news story in the media, or in a movie, our neurons start to forge pathways that make that one kind of story a narrative for our life.  So it seems it is important to actually fill yourself with different types of stories.

I love reading.  My wife and I actually read stories together, with usually me reading and her listening.  I tend to read in a British accent most of the time, because hey it makes the story sound better for me, but I also try to do different voices for different characters.  She likes the way I read, but I sort of wish she would read to me more too, because when we started she was the one that read to me, and it was actually her getting into the reading and doing different voices that made me feel comfortable getting into it. 🙂  She says I’m better at it, and maybe that’s true, but I just hope I haven’t taken something away from her that she enjoyed doing.   I do find value in reading a story out loud, telling it.  It makes you think about the characters more, what their moods and emotions might be.  I sort of find that when I read to myself I pay

Orpheus and Eurydice (from www. maicar.com).

more attention to the non-dialogue part, where as when I read out loud I pay more attention to the dialogue.  It’s a very different experience.  I strongly recommend giving it a try. 🙂  Rothfuss’ books have also made me think that it would be cool to have, instead of a book club, a story club where once a month you meet and tell stories to each other.  I am super excited to read stories to my child that is soon to be in this world, and I hope I can share the appreciation I have for the value of stories. 🙂