Day 162. On Telling Stories

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I talked to an old friend the other night. We used to live in the same apartment building. The place has been renovated now, but when we lived there it had not yet been. I loved it because it was old, had hardwood floors, arched doorways, and a Murphy bed. I did not like it because it had cockroaches. Most of the people living there were on government assistance of some kind. The people were great, there was such a cast of characters. There was Fat Joe, who never wore a shirt, Billy the Kid, a cat lady, and a host of others.

I got to know one family pretty well and I’ve stayed in touch with Donna periodically. Donna was 17 and super energetic when I lived there and I used to play hacky sack with her and her boyfriend, DJ. Eventually we all moved out. Donna’s life is way different from mine. She lives the life of someone that has only known poverty. Ruby Payne has a good book called  A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Donna dropped out of high school, been on and off drugs, divorced, been in a lot of fights, can’t hold down a job, and a lot of other stuff. DJ is now in prison for the second time.

When I talked to her the other night, we hadn’t talked for a couple of years, but she somehow remembered my phone number. She told me a lot of updated stories along the same lines. Her brother is in prison, she had cancer, and friend drama. I have to admit, it always rattles me a little bit when I talk to her, because she has so many needs and so many things that go bad for her. If I just had a fraction of them I would be devastated. She rolls with it.

It rattles me because I want to help, but I know if I gave her $50,000 (which I don’t have) it wouldn’t be a lifesaver, the problems are too systemic. I don’t feel like I can help. I mostly just listen and say, “uh huh,” “yeah,” “that sucks.”

Ive been thinking again lately about telling our stories and what that means to us.

I think that, in part, we are social creatures so we can have a role in creating the overall narrative, and narratives in our lives. I think about this in the role that this blog plays in my life since I moved. I’ve had a lot of good and exciting things happen, and I’ve had a lot of bad and embarrassing things happen. Each day, I tell what happened in my own words. The fact that I get to blog about it in my own words means that I’m ultimately in control of the narrative of the events of my life. This is not to say that I get to spin it, or I get to lie about it.

This is to say that without it, I don’t have that control. I think this is what our relationships provide for us. They give us the opportunity to tell our story in the way that we want to tell it. We’ve all had a bad boss at one time or another. What do we do with that? We tell our friends stories about it. It gives us the power.

In the absence of the ability to be the ones telling our story, we feel powerless.

In the absence of people to tell our story to, we feel powerless.

When we are alone, someone else is telling our story.

Telling stories may be what most makes us human.

With Donna, this is what I can provide, and probably all I can provide. I know she has other people for that too, but I can be one of those people. Sometimes charity rubs me the wrong way in that, at times, it is seen as people who are up here, reaching down to people down here.

Trading stories and constructing narratives together is an equalizing act.

It is something that both people in the equation desperately need.

Here is the story of my day:

Ross and I rode bikes/the subway downtown to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see an awesome street art exhibit, only to discover that it was closed on Tuesdays. Big bummer, unless it is in the warehouse district and there are blocks and blocks of the surrounding area to explore. You guys, it’s crazy. I love exploring. I feel like Christopher Columbus, I’m exploring an area, for what feels like the first time by a person, but really there have already been people there. I’m just more considerate of the people there. There are so many old theaters downtown that haven’t been renovated, and some that have. My imagination runs wild. Here is a cool rundown of those.

When we got back I decided to go to the Poetry Slam at this place nearby. Poetry slam’s are just about the coolest thing in the world to me next to abandoned, ornate, buildings. They get me fired up to write really deep posts. I’m putting this out here so I will make myself do it, at the next open mic slam, I’m going to read a poem. If I tell someone then I will actually make myself do it. It freaks me out, but that is all the more reason to do it in my book.

Today was my grandma Joan’s birthday. In honor of that, here is a link to her blog which has a newish post.





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4 responses to “Day 162. On Telling Stories

  1. Pingback: Day 162 – Appreciating the Life You Have « A Year Of Living Wisely

  2. Pingback: cultured learning | Carmon Thomas

  3. “Trading stories and constructing narratives together is an equalizing act.” My favorite. I sit here and read these daily, but trying to write one gives me an entirely new appreciation for your abilities and tenacity to keep this going. Today, you inspire me.

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