Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Storytelling and Telling Stories by Tina

My grandmother always told me, “Now don’t you be telling no stories.”

But I always did. I couldn’t resist a story, even if it meant making one up for no reason but the making.

My grandmother said these were lies. My husband would agree. He’s an engineer, suspicious of the frayed edge that all stories have, the place where facts start unraveling. He says that fact and truth are the same thing. He says that if he started writing equations based on my ideas of truth, planes would fall from the sky.

It’s a point.

And yet my brain can’t make sense of all the facts around me; it’s an impossibility. Information overload. My brain has to leave out certain things for me to make sense of the rest. It edits my reality into something I can comprehend, leaving out this, focusing on that. It connects my present experience to the other experiences folded and tucked in my gray matter, and by doing so, creates a chronology, a sense of past and future, effect and consequence. The human brain is wired for stories, and it programs our consciousness accordingly.

Not facts. Stories.

Memory is useful not for what it records, but for what it erases. It takes out the extraneous -- however factual -- and leaves us with essence -- however slanted. And it is slanted; it must be. No true and perfectly accurate memory exists. Certain details, by necessity, weren’t captured in the first place, and every subsequent time your consciousness touches the memory, it further alters it, even as it carves it deeper into your brain. Jonah Lehrer explains it more eloquently than I can in his SEED magazine article "The Neuroscience of Proust":
Every time we remember, the neuronal structure of the memory, no matter how constant it may feel, is delicately transformed. If you prevent the memory from changing, it ceases to exist. So the purely objective memory . . . is the one memory lost to you forever.
Our memory is a fallacy. All we have are our stories. All we are are our stories.

Which is why I write fiction -- because it's the only way I know to find something real. And there isn't an equation in the world that can do that for me.

8 comments:

Susanna Ives said...

Wow. I'm a story creator. I constantly have stories in my head. They are my tools to cope with reality. I take a situation or an emotion and create story for it, so that I might understand it, see its sides, let it blossom in a protected space.

My memory doesn't work. I've become a detective of my own life.

Tina said...

"A detective of my own life" I like that. Maybe this is why I write mysteries -- because memory is always an unreliable narrator, and the best we can do is at least create something worthy of the scraps it offers. A crazy quilt.

Laura Valeri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura Valeri said...

I love this. I was recently talking to a friend about something I read recently regarding our DNA and theories of consciousness. I was embarrassed that I could not remember any specific scientific detail. Yet I was just done telling her about 1,000 years of myth evolution on a particular god first worshiped in Sumeria, later in Babylonia and Assyria, and making a brief appearance in the Bible. I apologized to her for not remembering any of the scientific details. "I can't remember dates or names or numbers, but I can lecture you for hours on mythology." She said, "That's because you remember stories." That's what it is. I remember stories.

Tina said...

Our brains are story-making machines. So -- with apologies to those other contenders -- storytelling is actually the world's oldest profession.

Liz Fichera said...

Life is so much more fun with stories. Without stories, it'd be like hot chocolate without whipped cream.

Tina said...

Like lukewarm whipped cream-less chocolate. Which is just sad to write much less think about.

Catriona Iams said...

I completely agree with all of this. Wow. My husband thinks that same as your husband. I understand your reasoning. Excellently said. Excellently written.