What is a story?
You know after several days of attempting to answer this question, I’m no closer to an answer than when I started. Honestly, at the moment, I don’t have the answer, only a belief that if I keep trying to answer the question and answer will come …
After several days of wrestling with the question and finding myself distracted by the squirrels of curiosity I am beginning to wonder if my approach is all wrong. Maybe that is what my ADD mind is trying to tell me. But why should I listen to it? I think there is some part of my mind that doesn’t want to answer the question; it just wants to keep chasing squirrels.
And here comes another squirrel!
When, in college, I finally discovered a vocation that didn’t intimidate me … and that seemed to even excite me … I became quickly annoyed when one of my theater professors made the unreasonable demand that we should actually study the history of theater. Quite honestly I couldn’t see the point. Why did I need to know why or how they did something years ago? These people aren’t around anymore so whatever they did no longer has any relevance. And, besides, aren’t we supposed to be creating theater? Let someone else study it and teach it. I just wanted to create.
I can feel residues of that old, lazy, determined to not be an intellectual attitude creeping in as I look at the question “what is a story”. (Hey, do you end a sentence in a question mark because the last four words are actually a question when the entire sentence is a statement? Anyone want to chase that squirrel?) And it’s not that I didn’t want to be an intellectual. Deeply inside I craved to be an intellectual (I have way too many brilliant brothers and sisters) but was completely convinced that any intellectual pursuit was not in the cards.
Okay, so maybe my approach to this question is all wrong. That can happen. Don’t tell me you’ve never taken the wrong road totally convinced that you knew where you were going. You probably even gave a brilliant explanation later of why you took that long, dangerous and totally pointless route. You’re that good!
So, let’s start again. Always a good thing to do when nothing is going well. You knew where you started and you can always go back there and give it another shot. Story. A story is a series of events, which by their construction, design and sequence will create the illusion of an experience of reality. A story is not real, whether based on fact or not, in and of itself it is not real. It is a “telling”, a recapitulation, an imagination of reality. The only thing real about a story is that it is a story. A real story. It exists as a story. But the events, circumstances and characters it depicts are not real. Just like a painting, or a photograph, is not real. It’s a real paining or a real photograph. That is its reality. But the content of the painting or photograph is not real, only a captured image, an illusion of reality.
So when we are constructing or telling our stories we need to keep in mind two things. One, we are creating something new that can exist by itself – the story. Two, in the telling of this story we will create the illusion of something else. And it is this illusion that has power, the power to inspire, provoke, harm or heal.
A few nights ago I was at the Hollywood Bowl with some friends (always a magical experience in so many ways) to hear Joshua Bell and the LA Philharmonic perform Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. Of course we were all anticipating a brilliant performance, but Joshua Bell has elected to add something new. Something that would give this performance of Vivaldi’s masterpiece more resonance, more depth. On the large video screens where the performers are projected in close up he was going to superimpose the lines of the poetry that Vivaldi wrote for each Season, for each musical phrase of each Season. Now the story, the same story as anticipated, has changed. Now the words of Vivaldi are dancing in front of me while the marvelous LA Philharmonic and the amazing Joshua Bell give a stunning performance. Often, while listening to a performance at the Hollywood Bowl I will just close my eyes and absorb the music. But now my eyes were transfixed on the screens, not only to see the LA Phil and Joshua Bell in close-up detail, but also because I didn’t want to miss a word of Vivaldi’s poetry. I was transported. My mind and heart and soul embraced every note, every word and suddenly Joshua Bell, Vivaldi and The Four Seasons will never be the same again. They will always be an extraordinary evening at the Hollywood bowl. Which by the way, is promoted with the statement “in every seat is a different story” and they are so right.