Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What's the story here?

Photo by Patrizio Martorana
Our brains are wired to make sense of the events we observe. When it cannot put together the puzzle pieces from our observations, our brains will simply fill in the blanks. That's the point behind those tests of how well we can read sentences that are missing vowels or have such a hard time spotting extra letters. Based on previous experience, our brain sees what it wants to see.
I think another way we're all wired is that we all share a need to turn our experiences into a narrative. If you've ever heard the phrase, "It is what it is" and disagreed, I think you're tapping into this impulse, or this imperative, or whatever it is that provides the perspective and the point of view to turn situations into story.
"Bad life, good anecdote," Carrie Fisher used to say, and I embraced that phrase as my mantra.
But it's not just writers who do this.
When I worked for Los Angeles Magazine, I car-pooled with two women who could not have been more different from each other and from me. One was an elegant ex-model whose husband was a handsome, successful executive. The other was a careworn mom whose life had been full of sorrows--an ex-husband who supported the family (or not) as a gambler, a first-born child who died from a reaction to the polio vaccine.
We were locked together in a small space for at least 90 minutes a day and sometimes longer and as women do when they're together, we talked.
Often the talk was trivial--about work, about movies, about people we knew. Sometimes the conversation was heavier, about an abortion one had had, about seemingly insurmountable in-law problems that were wreaking havoc in a marriage, about hopes and dreams and aspirations.
And one day we saw the piles of rubber bands at an intersection.
M saw them first and remarked upon them and J and I looked and thought, Huh. That's odd.
And that would probably have been it except that not long after, we saw another pile of the rubber bands--the skinny little ones--at another intersection.
Before long, we were seeing the piles of rubber bands all over the place, as if droppings from some big rubber dog that would pass by unnoticed, leaving its scat behind.
It almost drove us crazy trying to figure out the significance of those piles of little rubber bands.
and then one morning we came in to work very early, for reasons that escape me, and the mystery of the rubber bands was solved when we saw a paperboy on a corner putting them around his newspapers before loading up his bike.
The best advice my father ever gave me was, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."
We were disappointed when we found out what was really going on.
Because we wanted there to be a "story" there.

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