Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Story as Pheremone


Because of your experiences as a writer, an editor, and a teacher, you are not only able to see this vision played out, you have yourself participated in this vision as something yet else—a student.

Ah, the hubris of visualizing yourself transmogrified from student to writer, nevertheless it is so in part, this vision you are about to present.
The vision goes like this:

Almost all individuals have some narrative to recount, some collection of events they bring out with greater speed than grandparents bring forth pictures of their grandchildren.  Some of these narratives have been forged in the fires of resentment and perhaps even victimization.  Other narratives are of bragging about friends and family who have achieved success as though success were an inherent family trait, falling with the abandon of dandruff on a blue suit. 

Yet other narratives are of the I-made-it type.  These are mere examples of narrative.  They are brought forth for stranger and friend alike.  Whatever their emotional origins, they are rarely withheld, in fact, more often than not, they are broadcast.  These are not real stories, they are accounts of injustices or of some turn of fate, the more or less contemporary equivalents of the narratives given by humans during the times of ancient Greece and Rome, where such phrases as “turn of fate” were replaced with the generic ”the gods” or the names of one or more specific gods.  We have a great deal to answer for with our insistence on monotheism.

As well as these narratives, there are episodes, which are closer to being story but not quite there.  Episodes are strings of incidents.  They are put together in good faith by individuals, some of whom even strive to be storytellers.  The best way to get the sense of what episodic means is to listen to a young person describing a film they’ve seen or some television drama beyond situation comedy.  Episodic adventures or, if you will, narratives, are punctuated with “and then they,” or the singular pronoun, “and then he,” or “and then she” the necessary linkage for events to become story substituted as these “and then” tropes.

A story is brought into being when one or more characters sets out in pursuit of something or when a strange force arrives in a place where there is an established social order.

Many individuals earn the reputation for being bores or “Johnny one-Notes” when listeners conclude they have one or two narratives or when they attempt to tell a history that is linked with “and then I” or “and then he” or “and then she” instead of some thematic or chronological line of development.

Indivduals who share stories are in a real sense sharing dramatic genomes, which sounds sexual in some ways because the act of sharing stories is close to being as intimate as a deep, committed sexual connection can be.  Story is satisfying because it conveys dramatic information and coded cultural information, leading to a sense of understanding, of closeness of a deep, highly personalized empathy that can and often does transcend mere physical connection.

Listen to the conversation of two lovers, then listen to the conversation of two individuals exchanging stories, each offering favorite moments or explanations of the events that took place within a story.  Sometimes the exchange passes over a simple detail, which in some special cases, produces the same result as a lover saying, “Do you like it when I touch you there?”  No matter where the “there” is.  This is not about mere tactile sensuality; this is about cultural, social, human sensuality, the kind transmitted through story.  You know someone better if that person has told you of a cherished story.  True enough, that information may cause you to feel a disconnect from that person.  There are risks in all social exchange.  Of equal truth, knowing an individual’s preferences in stories might suggest a greater depth and or warmth about that individual than you’d previously suspected.

“What’s your story?”  we sometimes ask with an undertone of irritation.  We wish to know what that individual is up to, what that person’s intentions are, how they will affect us.  There are so many terms and uses for types of stories, to name but a few:  A sad story,  a likely story, a cock and bull story.      

Sometimes you think we are attracted to those we care about and given ample reason for feeling repelled by others because of their personal narrative, the goals, intents, and motives by which they are governed.

Although there are any number of quick-fix clich├ęs that could be used to describe you, most of which you would detest, you believe you’d be much more content accepting someone’s interpretation of you as the story they see as you—whether you agree with the assessment or not.  After all, it is a story, and that is the primary form of recognition imprinted on our sensitivities.

Like bees, insects, and birds programmed to visit particular flowers, trees, shrubbery, and plants, we are responding, whether we realize it or not, to the individuals with stories from whom we can draw sustenance and provide on some level a form of pollenization native to our species.

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