Of Tall Tales

Of Tall Tales and Stupid People. Be warned everything you hear is a story. I have spent the better part of my career working with stories. We academics call it "narratives." And the more I look at the World around me I realize that I have lost the ability to enjoy a story. Because it is always, oh so predictable, and always, oh so false. You see the tall tales and you see the stupid people who believe the stories they are told and walk around in blissful ignorance of the fact that they have just been taken for a ride. It is easy to find the holes in a story - it is just that you have to look for them. And you only look for them when you accept that everything you are hearing is a manufactured tale with some bits of reality and truth to lull you into comfort and the rest is just fabricated. One then asks why? Why do people pepper their stories with the fictional and the fabrication. The unfortunate truth is that people have things to hide. People are in places of vulnerability where the real story would be shocking. We see that in fiction all the time - that is what makes good fiction - the shock - the moment when what was unexpected actually happens and we gasp at the screen or the book and realize the absolute brilliance of the storyteller as the person takes you down a path that you least expected. But what about our everyday lives? Do we want to be led down a path you least expected? Would you want to wake up one morning and realize that you are not who you thought you were, and the story you have been told is entirely false. This has been the theme of numerous fictions. But Mark Twain said it well when he said that truth is stranger than fiction, and he also said that fiction is obliged to stick to what we would at least find believable and plausible to be able to say at the end of the story that, "yes that makes sense." But truth and life have no obligation to be believable. In fact, this is why truth is difficult to handle, it is much better to be an ostrich and bury your head in the sand and pretend nothing has happened. But right there, right under your nose, something is happening, it may not fit the narrative that you want for your life but the fact that it is happening is neither a fiction nor inconsequential. This is the irony of the stories of life. We suspect something is happening but since we have to stay within the plausible and the comfortable, we discard the possibility until the evidence is overwhelming and we face the truth, no longer just the story we had lulled ourselves to believe, and we have the inevitable encounter with ourselves because this was not the story we had imagined. Because stories handle truth in curious ways, by either altering truth or by simple omitting it. We have all done that. Playing truant in school the principal was told that there was a science fair that we must all see, except after leaving the school premises we all went to a movie. In the lives of the adult it is the story that says "I am working late tonight at the office" but, and I am not making this up, the Fitbit on the wrist showed high physical activity for a short period of time every evening, the woman investigated and found out about the affair (look up: "Fitbit doesn't fool around: How the fitness tracker helped this woman catch her boyfriend cheating" USA Today, December 14, 2019)! So, please take off those annoying health trackers. But this process happens not only because the stories are so carefully and craftily manufactured, but because we all trust the storyteller. In the end the story becomes the storyteller. If the storyteller is trustworthy then the story is solid. Indeed, Aristotle reminded us of this many many years ago when he speaks of "ethos" and the trust of the dwelling place we live in - our home. We trust our home and the stories of our home can never be fiction. In that trust we douse ourselves into what some may call the complacence of habit. But look beyond the story, look for those tiny narrative flaws the so-called holes in the story - the details that are gleaned over and you will see that we have surrounded ourselves with fiction rather than reality. Because the real is uncomfortably cruel and we often do not want to handle it. Just like the old man in the Eagles song, "But he knows where she's goin' as she's leavin'/There ain't no way to hide your lyin' eyes." Trust the storyteller and then you can trust the story.

 


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