Tell Me a Story

I’ve started the process of writing my thesis paper for school. I’ve taken as my subject “the future of narrative,” except that, as a paper title, it will be capitalized.

When one starts out to talk about where something is going, what is the first thing one does? That’s right – talk about where it’s been. And it turns out that humans communicate primarily through storytelling, and always have. Think about your typical day. You get up, and maybe you turn on the radio or television to catch the news and traffic before heading out for work. Do the news and radio presenters give you long lists of undifferentiated information? Well, if it’s traffic, yes. Or weather. And sports scores. But all that other stuff? It’s all stories. Narratives about something that happened to somebody, and sometimes what that somebody did about it. Then you go to work or school and talk to your friends or co-workers. How do you talk to them? You tell them stories about things you’ve done or seen or thought about since you saw them last. Then you get home, and if you live with someone, you tell them the story about how your day went. If you don’t, you might call up a friend or two and the whole tribe of you will exchange stories. Or you might watch television – the non-literary narrative device. And, if you’re like me, before you go to sleep, you read a book. My entire day, from beginning to end, is steeped in story.

Now that I think about it, there’s a feature in our tiny town’s local paper that both intrigues and infuriates me – you probably have something similar in your local paper. It’s the police blotter, a place where all the calls to law enforcement are catalogued without any editorial. While it’s interesting to know whether my neighbors have also gotten their mail stolen, I want to know the stories behind these calls.

Here’s a sample:

Jan. 1

1:35 a.m.: A Boulder Creek resident reported that her live-in boyfriend had covered her mouth with one hand and used the other to try to choke her during an argument. The boyfriend had fled by the time deputies arrived at the scene.

What were they arguing about? How long had they lived together? Is this the first time they’ve called the police? How old are they? What happened after the police left?

I need story so much that when I’m bored out in public, I make up stories about the people around me. People at restaurants, people attending the same meeting I’m in, nobody’s safe. And, if asked, I’ll certainly share those stories, even if they’re about you.

Narrative is certainly changing. As technology moves ahead, it enables humans to offload some of the intellectual work of remembering a given story thread, so that stories can be told over longer periods of time. First writing made it possible to save stories for later, kind of like raisins are grapes someone saved for later, which makes the written word the raisin of narrative. Just go with it. Scrolls meant that we could have stories of any length – just start a fresh scroll when you get to the end of the one you’re on now. And whoever uses up the end of a scroll had better get out a new one, because no one likes to sit down at the writing desk and find they’re without a scroll. Not cool. Then books allowed for longer narratives in less space. Then, eons later, electronic media allowed books to take up almost no room at all.

Just wait. Next time, I’ll tell you more about where narrative is going. First, I have to go talk to some of my neighbors. Someone owes me a story.

The Loss of a Close Friend

On Thursday when I left the house to pick my daughter up from school, I couldn’t find my iPod. I’d had it in the car the night before, but now I couldn’t lay hands to it. I couldn’t find it again when she and I left to go to karate. I came home and looked in my briefcase, my purse, my other purse, my backpack. I looked in the foot wells of the car, in the trunk, under the seats. I looked in that place in the kitchen where all the junk seems to accumulate, on the nightstand next to my bed, in the mess of books on the floor in front of the nightstand. I cleaned the desk in my office. I cleaned the stuff off the couch. I cleaned the stuff off the other couch.

Don’t get me wrong – my house is neither so big nor so messy that a thing as big as an iPod goes missing often. Yeah, I know that an iPod is only about the size of a deck of cards, but do you think that if you left a deck of cards somewhere in your house, you might never find it?

I looked in the onion bin, the potato drawer, the fridge, the silverware drawer, and the drawer in the pantry where we keep screws, tape, hooks, hinges and bits of string. I’ve looked under things, behind things, in things, between things.

In the meantime, I’ve got two audiobooks that I have to hear to prepare for an interview. There are a few podcasts I follow that I now miss. I’ve got a half-dozen audiobooks that I’m reading for non-school purposes. And then there’s the music. If I were stranded on a desert island, I could listen to music continuously for 20.4 days without hearing a duplicate. I’ve got 4.5 days of television shows (nearly all animation), and a whopping 138 days of books. Just over FIVE MONTHS of content.

I didn’t realize how much I depended on my iPod. Because I’m always reading a paper book while reading an ebook while listening to an audio book. Because I’m hooked on Lexicon Valley and SuperEgo and Judge John Hodgman. Because I am like the rest of the world in that I like to clean while listening to music. Because when I’m on a plane and I can’t write anymore, I can always watch more Clone Wars. Or re-watch.

I know from the painful and tragic experience of a family friend that you have to wait 7 years after someone’s disappearance to have them declared dead. How long should one wait before declaring a beloved life partner lost? Would I betray my old friend if I went out and picked up someone new and shiny? How stupid will I feel if I buy a new iPod and come home and the next time I sit on the couch, there it is, under my left butt cheek? In the meantime, I’m dragging my entire laptop around with me so that I can keep up with my schoolwork.

Lord knows what I’ll do when I mislay that.

UPDATE: Not 30 minutes after posting this, I found my iPod. It’s a 160Gb iPod classic in a thick silicone skin (I drop it a lot). The silicone means that not only does it not break when I drop it, but it sticks to things (like the time it stayed on the roof of my car during 48 hours and 100+ miles of driving). It had fallen between the mattress and footboard of my bed (it’s a big sleigh bed) and stuck there. Until I pulled all the linens off the bed and jiggled the mattress around. I knew that if I just bitched loudly enough about it being lost, it would hear me and get itself found again. This iPod and I, we’re like Sauron and the One Ring.