“The truth about stories is that’s all we are.”
Thomas King says this in his wonderful and though-provoking The Truth About Stories. I love this idea, the simplicity of it and how it nudges you slightly off-balance: We are what? I’m not going to try and tell Little e this when she asks one of those endearingly existential questions all three-year-olds ask (aside from the gem, “Why is the bug still dead?”). But when she’s older and we wade (pardon the pun below) into something closer to a philosophical discussion of life and narrative, I will. Because I love looking at life through different lenses and this one is close to my heart, of course, as a writer. I tell stories for fun (and sometimes for a bit of a living), so I know this to be true: I am made of stories. Narrative is what makes me me. Not just the narratives I make up and write down, but the ones that I have lived through, whether I tell them to others or keep them inside for myself (or have even forgotten completely). I am only the sum of my experiences, the stories that I have been a part of.
I marvel at the stories Little e, and now her brother, The Tiger, are living through. Small ones like the trip a couple of toys make together to the end of the garden or big ones like a recent trip to the Emergency Room at 2 a.m. involving miraculous sedatives. Those are part of the accumulating narrative bank they each will carry with them for their lives. Some I am a part of, but many I’m not.
One of my favourite times to tell and hear stories is when we’re hiking. When I was a kid, I spent huge chunks of family hikes telling myself (or unfortunate others) long, rambling stories, fictions I made up to make the going more fun. Now I can’t wait for my children to become storytellers as we walk. Storytelling and journeying are such perfect companions. Not just because together they get you there faster (though that matters less to me now), but because the rhythms of movement become the rhythms of story. It’s somehow easier to lose yourself in a narrative that’s being told when you are walking alongside the teller.
Sometimes I eavesdrop on Little e when she’s playing with her menagerie of plastic animals. The foundation of narrative is already there–she uses repetition, emphasis, dialogue tags (he said, she said), climax and resolution. She tells stories in three dimensions–to herself, to her toys and using what’s around her to illustrate and enhance, like a play. This is how Thomas King is right: we are made of stories. They have been with us, have been us, since the beginning. What we tell people about ourselves, how we describe our lives and experiences, is just personal narrative. It’s what happened. It’s how we came to be. Without stories, we aren’t us.