Narratives for Survival #1


So I found this meme on Facebook the other day, not long after Umberto Eco’s death, and I thought that it might just kick my writer’s block in the pants. “To survive, you must tell stories.” I tend to look at this blog as a “platform” for my books of poetry that I am going to be publishing in the next few years, a way to “build an audience,” and I imagine that many of my readers who are also bloggers feel a similar way.

But I often get dragged off course, usually by popular culture narratives with kickass women characters who lead, make choices and decisions, fight, kill, deal with the trauma, and work to balance the things and people they love with the things and people they have to deal with in often less than loving ways. These are the narratives I am magnetically drawn to.

Clearly, they are not the only important narratives. I have a shelf of books on World War II and the Holocaust because memory and testimony are crucial types of narratives for survival. I don’t write about these much because I don’t have firsthand knowledge, but I am going to be giving my writing students a speech by Elie Wiesel to read because they might take his thoughts on “The Perils of Indifference” better than they would take such thoughts from me.

There are also meta-stories: stories about how stories affected you, as we often hear when we start talking about representation in popular culture narratives. So Whoopi Goldberg has often talked about the galvanizing affect seeing Nichelle Nichols playing Lt. Uhura on Star Trek had on her when she was a little girl, suddenly realizing that a black woman could be a leader rather than just a servant. So clearly it is just as important to consider how we tell the stories we tell.

But there are other narratives too, the stories we tell ourselves when we are too tired to do the laundry or too hopeless to fall asleep at three in the morning, or too optimistic to consider consequences or too busy to separate the recycling. Sometimes they serve us well, reminding us to save our energy for the big things or to hold on to the small things until we have the resources to work for the bigger things. And sometimes they just get in the way. So maybe it is not only about what stories we tell and how we tell them, but also how we use them and how they serve us and others or do not.