Storytelling as Magic
Blissful moments for me lately involve pausing, usually from a sitting or horizontal position. The other day, when I intended to write this blog, instead I took to the couch with the latest Nick Hornby novel and a cup of tea. I can't believe how happy this made me. It occurred to me in that simple moment that pausing in life, is like making art.
Making art is all about framing. The artist chooses what is important and then puts a frame around it. If my blissful moment had been a scene in a movie (sorry, film), the camera might have zoomed in on my cup of tea and my face (played by Reese Witherspoon). There might be some emotive, dramatic music too. The artist would choose techniques to communicate to the viewer that this is important. In fact, the artist would have already made that choice by including the moment in the film in the first place. .
But of course in the day to day of our lives we don't have film crews, songwriters or painters following us around to frame the important moments of our lives and make meaning for us. We have to do that ourselves. Thank goodness.
Which is what I was going to write about on the weekend instead of reading my book. Sort of. I was thinking about storytelling in families. I have researched a lot of the history on both sides of my family tree. I'm lucky because I'm not the only person interested in genealogy in my family. So, when I set out to research my family, a lot of the basic work had already been done.
It's amazing to have all that information and be able to trace ancestors back ten generations or more. But there are frequently errors and omissions in the records we use to trace our family trees (birth, death, marriage and baptism certificates for example). We can never really know for certain what transpired in the past. As a storyteller, this frees me up to not worry about the details too much and to focus on the stories I want to tell. To frame what I want to frame. To frame what I think is meaningful.
Stories are magic. They keep the spirit of the past alive and for those of us who no longer live in our ancestral homelands (pretty much most of the world it seems) that can be incredibly grounding. To know where you are rooted is pretty powerful. For hundreds of years, people on both sides of my family lived within a very small radius of the world. Sometimes it still feels like my body is bewildered living on this other coast. Like it hasn't caught up yet with the fact that it is living somewhere different from all the generations before.
I have written a play, monologue really, about my maternal grandmother. The writing of that was surprising because I was able to weave together many seemingly unrelated stories, fragmented lines from stories and vignettes that I had collected over the years. The stories came to life as I wrote them. They rushed in and found each other. It was like they wanted to be together and be told. Like they didn't want to be forgotten. And so as the storyteller I believe that. I believe them. I believe the stories whether they happened exactly that way or not.
Just like I think Reese Witherspoon should play me whether you agree with me or not.
I've got two chapters left in Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. To me, Go Set a Watchman feels like an end of summer book. Once I'm finished reading that book, summer is officially over for me (and I can also then scour the reviews to make more sense of what I'm reading. When was this book written?)
MId-September also brings my brother Will's birthday. Will is the funniest person I know. I don't remember him being at all funny as a kid, (just annoying), but as an adult he is quick-witted with a dry delivery that I appreciate very much. I feel fortunate to have a sibling I not only get along with, I seek him out.
How did I show my appreciation on his birthday? I sent him a bacon chocolate bar. But, I know, that he knows, the effort it took to get something in the mail to him in time for his birthday is the real gift. I must really love him if I could do that during the first week of school. Back to school. Back to scheduling life in between extra-curricular activities. The leaves are starting to turn, the air has a chill in the morning. Fall is coming with all it's transitional turmoil
For me the change in weather brings the added surprise of being reminded now daily of things I got rid of in June and have not replaced yet. You see, I'm doing my own version of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Kondo advocates for doing the tidying up all in one go (as in consecutive days or weeks), but she is also the same person who comes home from work and removes every item from her purse and puts it in its own space for the night and then presumably puts it all back in the morning. This is clearly nuts, so I'm not going to do everything she says. I can think for myself.
Thinking for myself is my excuse for why I'm stretching out this process over months, possibly years (I'll report back next year). However, I did get a little over zealous in June with Kondo's advice on how to declutter your clothes when I got rid of FIVE garbage bags full. I felt really light afterwards.
But, now that the seasons are changing, each day I find myself in need of a different item of clothing that I haven't made the time to replace yet. It felt great in June at the beginning of summer to fling aside almost every sweater I owned, but now that it's getting nippy in the mornings and evenings, not so much.
That's OK, that's what September is for, searching out a good sweater, finishing a novel on the hammock, watching the days get shorter and celebrating the September people with bacon chocolate bars.
I am reflecting on a moment in my twenties, I was at a research camp on the island of Borneo. We had been startled awake in the middle of the night by a loud explosion and people yelling "fire!". Honestly, I can't remember what had exploded, but something had and not surprisingly, in the jungle, there was no fire department to call.
So, roaming, nocturnal, wild boars be damned, we were out of our beds, in the darkness, carrying buckets of water back and forth to put out the flames. What I remember most about this night was Helen from New Zealand. Helen was on the other side of a large bucket filled with water, so heavy we had to carry it together and walk sideways like crabs. In the middle of the mayhem, from the other side of the bucket, she yells over to me. "This is what I love about this place!"
Back in Canada decades later, on another night, I was woken not by an explosion, but by a very heavy rain. On this night I found myself desperately filling plastic grocery bags with sand from my kids' sandbox. As my husband and I raced to stack the sand bags outside our flooding basement, I don't recall looking at each other filled with zeal exclaiming "This is what I love about home ownership!"
The difference? Responsibility. I knew what Helen meant. She meant she felt alive and vital. Also, that night in Borneo, we were somewhat confident that the fire would be extinguished and also we weren't the ones in charge. The night of the flood? We didn't know how much more the basement would flood (a lot more) or if the furnace was destroyed (it was) or if insurance would cover the costs (it did, mostly)
I have found that once I am thinking about insurance, I've pretty much extinguished the flames of vitality and zeal. That is my analysis of the difference between the two aforementioned nights.
Still, putting an adventurous spin on things can make life more full or at the very least more colourful, if only in my own mind. As Joseph Campbell used to say, "you have to say 'yes' to the adventure of being alive." All of it. Even ice cold raindrops down the back of soggy pajamas.