“The Good Parents” as Extraordinary Story

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.

A Story Told

“To be a person is to have a story to tell.” —Isak Dinesen

Opalanga Opalanga Pugh was an ordinary person with an extraordinary life, much of which she created and directed herself. Born in Denver, Colorado, in 1952, when people of color struggled against discrimination and limitations on their life choices, by 1972 she’d renamed herself after her Nigerian ancestors and begun her mission of storytelling.

Over six feet tall, chocolate brown, she carried herself like an empress. The gap between her front teeth, something that orthodontists would have wanted to correct, became a point of pride. In Africa the gap was associated with truth tellers.

That she was, but she couched the truth in stories, complemented by music and movement—from native peoples, from American culture, wherever a tale spoke to her. I once saw her speak to a group of some 75 women, mostly white and older. By the end of her presentation she was leading a line of all of us up and down the halls, around the rooms, in a joyous, joint celebration.

She said, “Who I am as a storyteller is one who is committed to the healing, the empowerment, and celebration of the human spirit. . .a Keeper of the Culture, a bridge-mother.” Known as a “griot,” a term and its variations used in West Africa for “storyteller,” she told her stories in ways that all peoples could understand and relate to.

She wasn’t with us long enough. She passed away in 2010 after a lengthy struggle, surrounded by close friends and family who had formed a network of support, provided day and night. Now those people have published, “When a Griot Dies,” a small book about her life, her journey, her spirit. Proceeds from its sale ($22 a copy) support the Opalanga Legacy Project, scholarships for all sorts of artists, keepers of the culture who honor her values.

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”—Muriel Rukeyser

For information on Opalanga, visit http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/opalanga
For information on “When a Griot Dies” or the Opalanga Legacy Project, contact Black Swan Books, opalangabooks@gmail.com ~ 303-366-4836