Sometimes I get tired of stories

            Our identities are commodified. That’s not some sort of capitalist critique. I don’t think that this is a worse state of affairs than that which has existed in the past. And I don’t think the future can, or will, be any better. Once upon a time, our identities were handed out to us and we got no say in taking or leaving them. Now we have a few more options (though just a few). We can tack on a few extras. We can make a few changes. But what has not changed is that our identities are pre-fabricated.

            I believe that all human beings are unique. And I believe that there is an infinite difference between you and me. But at the same time, that difference is incommunicable. It doesn’t seem like it should be that way. It feels like we should just be able to open our mouths and explain what we think and feel and somehow push out everything in our minds that feels so fresh and strange and unlike anything anyone else has ever told us. But we can’t. We don’t have the words.

            And when we open our mouths, we speak in the words we’ve been given. When we describe ourselves – describe anything – we use descriptions that we’ve been given. And these are so hopelessly inadequate.

            Like the title says, sometimes I get tired of stories. I think that maybe what stories are for is giving us new words: more accurate, powerful, and nuanced descriptions. Better identities. More identities. And that, by giving us the ability to think about ourselves and others in new ways, they also open up new ways of acting, new emotions. Or rather, the old emotions, but reinterpreted. Like how…and this is where I spent twenty minutes trying to think up an example.

            Because stories are not very good at doing that job. They are not very good at giving us that new vocabulary.

            And furthermore, the stories we pay for, the ones in books, and on TV, and in the movies, are much less effective than the ones we get for free. The stories in books, even the very best books, seem so frigid and distant to me compared to the stories my parents tell me, or compared to the stories my friends tell me over the instant-messenger every night.

            They are not expertly crafted, and if they were told to someone who was not emotionally invested in the teller then I doubt they would be worth much at all. But because I do know these people, those stories feel relevant, and real, and it feels like there is some essence of actual communication, as if somehow, upon telling them, we’re performing the miracle of thinking the same thoughts.

And there’s nothing universal in the stories that friends tell, but that is their power. They are not universal. They are specific. They are about my world, and, in some way, about me.

            That is not a power that a story you pay money for can ever tap into. Paying money voids that power.

4 thoughts on “Sometimes I get tired of stories

  1. Alex J. Kane

    How, then, do you feel about the ones you write yourself? Do they feel like ordinary fiction, or something deeper and more personal?

    I personally try to bleed into my fiction, so that it takes on a living quality. Rarely do I succeed, but when I do the difference is striking when compared to my less personal works.

    Interesting observation.

    1. Dener

      Just read this book last year. Made me want to read more Cather, but have not been able to find the time. Summer is coming and I am lnooikg for some great reads, so thank you for jogging my memory about author Willa Cather.

  2. Ben Godby

    The stories you pay money for are universalized: full of objects, icons, and images that, in some way, you–and a million other people–must be able to digest. On the other hand, the stories your close relations tell you are digestable much more purely.

    It’s a matter of, you could say, “suchness and thusness,” or just, “immediacy.” The rosebuds on the wallpaper, or the computer virus, or the explosive intimate relational fight, or whatever object or event, that appears in a story your friend tells you, has intrinsic value. It’s unrelateable; you can’t make me care about it. But you care about it, already, without thinking, without trying, because you’re there, you’re in it, and it has a real place–it doesn’t just happen to show up in text. This is such, it is thus, life’s like this.

    Life itself, as experienced, is not a signifier or a symbol. It just “is.”

    A story, on the other hand? The kind you read in a book, or a magazine? We have a whole culture of criticism designed to find meaning in those works; we need guides, classes, schools, universities, theories to understand literature, to understand the news, to sympathize with the plight of poor people, homeless people, war-torn peoples… to make sense of international relations, of politics, of technology. Those stories are all related. What’s gasoline? It’s shit I put in my car to make it go. What’s gasoline? The death of foreign nationals, the death of sea turtles, the beautiful house and beautiful wife and hot new ride of some executive. Those things are communicable in one sense, yes; I can tell you a story about them. But in a real sense, in a grip-this-in-your-damn-hands-and-sympathize way, they are utterly, utterly alien, and writing a story about them, I would still have no idea what they mean or are.

    Ironically, if I really think all this, if I understand what I am saying, I should have absolutely no reason to comment on this blog post.

    Oh, yeah: narcissistic self-aggrandizing storytelling. Amirite? Kenyadiggit?

    -bn

  3. Pingback: Wrap-up Season: My Seventh Year of Writing « Blotter Paper

Comments are closed