Friday, October 14, 2011

Eight Hours

     What is your favorite novel? Your favorite movie? Song? Play? What about your most loathed Disney antagonist? Or the television show that makes you laugh so hard you cry?

     If you're like me, every one of those answers would require several minutes, if not days of deep thought.  It's not that I can't compare Beloved and Light in August or Scar and Ursula, I just struggle settling on a single one. After all, how many books have you read? Probably less than the number of songs you've heard.
     I heard an interesting statistic the other day: The average American spends eight hours a day reading, watching, or listening to stories. Whether it's watching the news when you get home from work, reading before you go to bed, or listening to your friend talk about the cute guy who glanced her way in math class earlier, stories define our every day lives.
    So what if I asked you what you believe is the most important story of your lifetime? If you're religious you might answer the Bible or the Qur'an. If you're 14 you might answer Harry Potter. The possibilities are endless and there is no right answer. So why did I ask? Because I believe stories are at the heart of what it means to be human. From the cave paintings to Trajan's column to Hollywood, every society across time has had story at its center. After all, whatever religion you belong to has a story of creation or beginning. Whether God made man from dust or the Water Beetle brought mud from the depths of the ocean to form the lands as the Cherokee belief holds, humans and the earth are the great creation. By design, we are the inheritors of the world. Being created, however, does not define a human. The animals, plants, viruses, air, water and fire are creations as well. So what separates people? Stories hold the answer.
     On the most basic level, in order for a story to be shared, somebody must record it. Today we pay ten dollars to go to a movie, twenty for a book, and a few hundred for a television, all to get our fix of stories. But who created those stories? Along the way there was a filmmaker, an author, an engineer, each a component of the ultimate story. For that is what people are. We are the created, but we are also the creators. For every person there is a Narnia. For every planet a Yoknapatawpha County. For every star a Hundred-Acre Wood. You've told your story to friends and strangers, and you've heard the stories of thousands.
     It is a story that defines who we are. Yours, mine, and every one we have heard that changes us in some way. We are the creators and the created. The talkers and the listeners. The actors and the audience. So read a book, or write a poem, or catch up on the news, and celebrate being human.


  1. Your statistic really made me stop and think about how many stories I do encounter on a daily basis, and I realized that eight hours might be an understatement. Stories don't only help us to celebrate being human, they allow us to be part of humanity collectively. Stories can introduce us to novel and even fictional or fantastical experiences, and while I enjoy getting lost in the creative land Naria, Yoknapatawpha Country or the wonderful world of Disney, its the stories that hit closest to home that I keep going back to. The true beauty of fiction is the reality it invokes, for the greatest story tellers characterize the emotions we all struggle with.

    Stories are also how we connect with others. So my lunch conversation is more likely to be about the cute guy glancing my way in math class than a quasi-utopian world, but it is what brings me into that common existence we all share. Someone else might have that story to, or at least enjoy listening to it. Our closest friends have read our story so many times the pages are dogeared and the binding are cracked. But, as a new grad student perpetually meeting new people I feel compelled to tell my friend's stories right along with my own. Almost, as if in order to like my story you have to understand theirs as well. So yes, stories do define who we are, but not just our stories, everyones.

  2. In my brain sciences studies in college, I spent a fair amount of time researching the phenomenon of explanation. When discussed in the field of cognitive science, Explanation is considered the story we formulate to remember an array of informational pieces. It is known to be the most effective form of learning, and rightly so; if there is a singular reason why a bunch of random units go together, it is significantly easier to understand how they fit together meaningfully. The take away message here (for me at least) is that we are biologically predisposed to think in stories for the purpose of our success as a species, and that storytelling is certainly the most important feature of our being. Same conclusion from a slightly different point of view!

  3. Anonymous,

    I couldn't agree more that the beauty of fiction is in the reality it brings to mind and heart. The comment about interrelated stories made me think of a great perspective I heard once. To illustrate the idea, pick your favorite color. It's a unique shade that only you own. As you travel through life, you have a bottomless bag of marbles of this distinct shade. For every person you affect, you pass on one of these marbles to them, so that they then carry it with them everywhere they go.

    I think the same is true with stories. You share yours with people and they do the same in return. You carry them with you and they become a part of you. It's a beautiful concept.

    And Miles,

    That's a fascinating concept. I really like the idea that stories are both a building block and a byproduct of the ability to reason (which I've also heard is a distinguishing feature of the human species). I've never heard that logic but it's really interesting. Very fun!

  4. Story is so much at the heart of our faith. Take the time to go and meet Chris Klopp, the new youth minister at Christ Church. He has really been standing the curriculum on its head, going back to the basics of the story of our faith. You would totally relate to his philosophies and concepts. It could be an enriching experience for both of you! This is really good stuff!

  5. I will! I found out pretty quickly freshman year that I didn't really jive with the churches in Providence, so I've fallen out of the habit a bit. I'll make sure I get back in the habit though. I'm curious to see what he is doing. Again, thank you so much!