Story: New Years Past

There is, at our very deepest, a driving force for each of us. It fuels the beating of hearts, the breath filling our lungs, the meter of our feet and the cadence of our speech.

I suppose most people never know their driving force–it’s far too deep, you see, and in a world with an attention span hardly longer than a few seconds, I doubt most of us can hold our breaths long enough to dive so deep within to find it.

But, perhaps, I’ve stumbled upon mine.

My thanks, of course, go out to Brene Brown, who said in one of her TED Talks that someone had once told her to “embrace the slash.” Her example: she’s not just a researcher; she’s not just a storyteller. She’s a researcher / storyteller.

If you’re a lot like me, you probably read the “slash,” but I think (I want to believe) that the slash is supposed to be silent, more akin to a hyphen: researcher-storyteller.

But hyphens evoke thoughts of death, for the hyphen is the marker between the years of our birth and our unbecoming, but also of things-that-get-strung-together-needlessly, whereas the slash simultaneously supposes opposition and synchronicity.

And that is why they must be embraced: because it’s both and either and neither, all at once. Therein lies much of my personal conflict: introvert / professional whose job demands constant positive interpersonal interactions, just to name one of many.

So sometimes I’ve thought about all my myriad interests–math and writing and video games and books and TV shows and movies and so on and so forth–and as I tried to stream along a sufficient system of slashes to summarize who I am and the order in which I am each of these things (teacher / writer / reader / video gamer / etc), I began thinking about the things all these things have in common.

That’s when it dawned on me: They’re all about Story.

Story isn’t just beginning / middle / end. Story is about all the deep and nuanced connections between things and among them. The most brilliant (but also hardest) part about teaching is wrapping your students up in the story of what you’re teaching. This is perhaps easiest seen in a history or civics class, where we’re already accustomed to stories, but my best math teachers were those who seamlessly wove together equations and anecdotes that brought the material to life in the space between student and speaker. It’s a skill I feel far from achieving, but an ideal I strive towards always.

Books and TV shows and movies are obvious actors in the realm of Story: We are raised to be told these are, indeed, the vessels of stories themselves. Different media, same intent: to inform, to entertain, to connect. To explore and expand, discover and grow.

Video games are stories, too. At least, they can be: I can name plenty of examples of games devoid of story entirely, and these are usually the ones that bore me and turn my eyes away. Video games differ from books and movies in a crucial way: the audience becomes an integral player in the story, and while often many games (Pokemon, Zelda, Mario, ad infinitum) railroad the player along a predetermined story in an illusion of control the likes of which rival the greatest examples of literary suspension of disbelief, there are plenty of other games (Oxenfree, Sundered, Skyrim) that allow the player to make choices that impact the story directly–these are the games, as they’re called, with multiple endings, and it’s why I played Tales of Symphonia about five times (and still haven’t seen all the iterations of the story or the secret “alternative” ending).

Story is also why I write: because there are stories inside me, characters and unexplored worlds waiting to be manifest in word. Whereas video games take the idea of a book or movie and turns the passive audience into an active audience, writing takes the idea of participating in Story a step further: rather than merely witnessing the story unfold, I become the story; or perhaps more aptly, I become the channel through which the story, born in some ethereal plane beyond our understanding, comes first into the world.

It’s like raw ecstasy and euphoria: for a moment I am possessed, I am not myself, and transported, I am not here, and it is a wondrous moment: a glimpse of the infinite.

Perhaps my love of Story is also my undoing, my fatal flaw: I am prone to boredom, and it is not unusual for this boredom to arise not only in solitary actions, but also within relationships: I can think of a small handful of friendships that have fallen into oblivion because there ceased to be any story between us, and I fear sometimes the reason my recent relationships haven’t lasted long is because we simply grew bored of each other… but perhaps that’s a topic for another talk.

I try to end every year with a retrospective of sorts, a look back at the things that went well and the things that didn’t, but as I press forward into the vast realms of pure adulthood (for school is finally behind me and, as the saying goes, my whole life is ahead of me), a list of checks and balances, pros and cons just didn’t seem necessary. This, however, a peek at something a little deeper, maybe, this feels worthwhile.

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