(photo credit: Reading by ThomasLife on flickr.com. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.)
I believe the following, wholeheartedly.
“Our appetite for story is a reflection of the profound human need to grasp the patterns of living, not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.” Robert McKee, Story
There are times when we need specific how-to advice: how to tie a bow tie, how to recognize the signs of a stroke, how to knit a baby blanket, how to make a strawberry-rhubarb pie. Practical information calls for step-by-step directions, but how to live, how to relate to people, how to deal with disaster or humiliation or public recognition, these things are too complex to be taught in a traditional this-is-how-you-do-it way.
I’ll never forget being a little girl, chewing gum, and my father telling me about the time he blew a bubble with his gum that was bigger than his head. He was so proud and pointing to it so his siblings and parents would see how talented he was, and they oohed and ahhhhed as he’d hoped. But then, it popped and his face and hair were covered in bubble gum, which led to hours of scrubbing to get clean and eventually having to get his hair cut very short.
The obvious takeaway, and the lesson he was not so subtly teaching, was that I shouldn’t blow bubbles bigger than my head, but that is the least of what I learned from that story. I was still a kid and I continued to try and blow the biggest bubble possible when I was lucky enough to have bubble gum in my possession.
At the time, I laughed because it was a funny story and I imagined for a second what it would be like to have all that gum covering me like a sticky pink layer of skin. Now, though, I realize that one of the main things I took away from my father’s story was that my father was once like me, young and a bubble gum lover, and like me, he did stupid things to get attention and sometimes when you do stupid things, you have to face the not so pretty consequences.
Like the stories other people tell us over dinner or in a message or by the campfire, books and films and plays, when they are well-done, leave us with a better understanding of what it means to be a person in the world, even if at the time of the telling (or watching or reading) we believe that all that’s happened is we’ve been entertained, that we’ve escaped into a world outside of our own often stressful lives.
I know how easy it is to say that I don’t have time to read a novel or the money to see a live play or the patience to sit quietly for two hours in front of a movie screen, but in my opinion, the benefits outweigh any negatives. Every time I experience life through the stories of others, be they real or imagined characters, I come out on the other side, often unwittingly, a little bit wiser and little bit more prepared for new life experiences.
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