The story writes us

Photo courtesy of João Silas
We constantly imagine pictures, or create muscle memory, or devise stories to help us recall how to perform tasks, analyze problems, and relate to other people. We tend to learn these methods from each other, rather than invent new ones, and consequently both good and inefficient strategies are passed along. The strategies suffice if they’re relatively effective. They needn’t be perfect, as evolutionary theory shows.

At a 2000 conference on the subjects of autobiography, biography, and memoir, Michal Govrin said the story writes us all. “Whenever we write, we shape things,” she said, and biography—the story—is a metaphor for the process of acculturation. There is, she reminded the audience, often a preconceived plot. People try to tell their stories in a certain way, to conform to a belief structure.

Most illuminating was Govrin’s conclusion: “It is very difficult to leave a story.”

4 Replies to “The story writes us”

  1. You haven’t thought about them in that way because they weren’t called plots. They were taught to you as values or beliefs, conveyed to you as parables or myths or anecdotes or advertisements or history, which of course might have had sophisticated plots. If your family or your community was invested in the stories it told about itself, then it must have been wrenching or even impossible not to conform. No wonder families have so many secrets.

    PS – The link worked OK for me. Here’s the URL:

  2. I don’t fish, which is one reason I’m fascinated with the way filmmakers tell the story of two temperamentally different fishermen in Low and Clear. It’s shot in beautiful surroundings, which makes it easy to watch, but it also captures something mournful and tender. In the middle of the film, the younger fisherman chooses not to take a piece of advice from his older friend and explains to the camera, “It doesn’t fit my vision of how the story is supposed to go.” I didn’t transcribe the exact quote, but that’s close. It’s a fine example to illustrate this post. The movie also goes to show that conflict or friction is what makes the story interesting.

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