Stories can hold the sum of mankind’s knowledge, desire, and feelings. We learn better if our information comes in the form of tales. They needn’t be particularly dramatic or scary, but somehow they need to be human, connect to us through emotion. For me, religions and philosophies are specialized stories, and hard sciences are palatable only if they are related in anecdotal fashion. A friend of mine believes I majored in psychology purely because the case studies resemble mini-tales.
Everyone has his own story. It might be funny or frightening, instructive or entertaining. It might bore some and excite others. Telling a story well, so others can relate to it easily, is the duty of the writer. I have a long list of types of stories I don’t like: zombies, vampires, blood and gore, evil. Also not keen on most sports or tragedies. Don’t like offerings that include torture. Okay occasionally with deaths. I especially don’t like poorly written work. I know the definition of this varies according to the hearer/reader, but, as the untutored viewer said of art, “I know what I like.”
I especially adore stories about ordinary people. Now that I think about it, I like stories with characters much like my friends—bright, curious, with kindly impulses, interested in what’s around them. Like my friends, these characters hit highs and lows, have flaws and fortes. They face the challenge of surviving in a world that often is cruel and uncaring, nourishing within themselves a careful consideration for their own well being and the same for others.. Examples—“Pride and Prejudice,” “The Things They Carried,” “White Teeth.”
I’ve found a book that meets my qualifications and is a joy to read. “The Good Parents” by Joan London. Set in the author’s homeland of Australia, it features a teen-aged daughter seeking to reach adulthood through the time-honored fashion—an older man—along with the turmoil experienced by her mother and father, aging semi-hippies. There’s a mystery, in fact several mysteries: will the daughter meet a terrible fate and will a disreputable but powerful man in the mother’s past bring doom?
The beauty of this book, however, is neither plot nor action. Rather, the intricate weaving of the inner thoughts, the external impacts, the complex relationships, of the characters make you read faster and faster, to track the lives of people who somehow seem as close as dear friends or beloved relatives. The main characters as well as the secondary ones upon whom only a few pages may be expended are as faceted and radiant and entrancing as a diamond. Through this treatise on one family’s lives, I grew to appreciate my own more.
“The Good Parents” is truly an example of how ordinary people can have extraordinary lives.
“Getting old is hell.” Advice from my grandfather years ago. As time builds up on me, I’m starting to realize the truth of his statement. Backs get creakier, joints wear out, muscles weaken, teeth break.
Do minds age, too? Shed memories and facts and knowledge like a tree lose leaves in the fall? I like to deny it, but I fear it may be so. Everyone I know over a certain age labels absentmindedness a “senior moment.” If she walks to a room to find a sweater and upon arrival has forgotten what she’s looking for, she blames aging.
One of the worst results of aging is that we lose the stories of our elders. I saw an old friend yesterday. As we chatted, he seemed disoriented; and I worried about his state of mind. I knew I’d miss the anecdotes of his recent travels, his sharp insights into politics.
I think about my grandfather and his tales about WW I. He was gassed in the trenches, survived the Depression. My mother, whose group of girlfriends daringly took nude photos of one another as teens. My father’s chronicles of a rough childhood in blue-collar Boston. (For more on this topic, see my “The Significance of Stories, http://sasee.com/2008/11/01/the-significance-of-stories/)
How do we capture and remember these extraordinary incidents in our senescence*? Usually we don’t. Sometimes writers will through their stories. Do you have family stories you recall or ones of your own you’d like to pass down?
* Senescence: the state or process of being old.