from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Thursday, 28 February 2013

'to poison a nation, poison its stories'

One of the things to which I return over and over is the importance of story. We carry the wisdom of the human race, and our ancestors, in story – long before the written word storytelling was one of the things that bonded us, allowed us to 'live right', as some indigenous elders have described it.

I'm reminded of this again this morning by a post from the wonderful Oriah Mountain Dreamer over at The Green Bough

Oriah says:
'Here’s a question to consider: Is the story I am telling – in the beliefs I espouse and how I live my life – heart-opening or heart-closing?' Heart-closing stories are those that separate us, that create inner and outer splits, she continues.
‘To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralised nation tells demoralised stories to itself’, says Ben Okri.
At a time when all we seem to hear about are the terrible things happening in the world, and dysfunctional relationships, I want to remind us again of stories that empower, that celebrate, that value diversity, that (re)connect us with others of all races and species, that are green and holistic, that illustrate what healthy relationships look like, rather than dysfunctional ones.
How, as humans, do we go through loss, fear, grief – because of course if we deny the darkness we can’t recognise the light – and yet still remember how to laugh, how to play, how to love, how to keep sight of bright moments? Dark times too are opportunities: ‘in a dark time the eye begins to see’ said Roethke.
‘If I were asked what I want to accomplish as a writer, I would say it’s to contribute to a literature of hope… I want to help create a body of stories in which men and women can discover trustworthy patterns… Every story is an act of trust between a writer and a reader; each story, in the end, is social. Whatever a writer sets down can help or harm the community of which he or she is a part…’ These heartful words of Barry Lopez are behind my thinking for most of the work I do. How we keep heart in heartless times?

We all inhabit layer upon layer of story; concentric rings of stories lapping outwards as well as inwards. 

'A story is like the wind,' records Laurens van der Post of a Bushman's words: 'it comes from a far-off place and we hear it.'

There are our own personal stories – maybe the perfectly ‘ordinary’ events of our daily lives (which of course are also extraordinary). These stories are a continuation of our collective histories (and herstories!), so fall deep behind us, and stretch towards the future; they also overlap with the stories of our families, friends, lovers, and so become wider.

Then there are the stories of our neighbourhood and community.

Wider again than these are the folk tales and cultural narratives of our society.

Add to these the stories that we call ‘current affairs’ – the national and global events and tragedies and joys that ripple through all of us living at this time.

Further back, deeper down, are the metanarratives and archetypes that are inherent in the human race, across time and across borders – they are human story rather than cultural story. (Anyone who has seen the painted prehistoric caves of France and Spain, the pyramids, the aboriginal art of Australia or of the native Americans will know what it is to stand in front of these pictorial stories and recognise that we are linked across millennia with the creators of this art.)
So stories are who we are. Story can shape what we think and believe, and how we live. Of course the opposite is also true: the lives we live influence the stories we accumulate.

Barry Lopez talks about two landscapes – one outside the self and one within. He suggests that the inner one is shaped by where one goes, the people one meets, the stories one encounters as well as one’s moral, intellectual, spiritual and I would add emotional development. He also says that the purpose of storytelling is to achieve harmony between the two landscapes.

What stories do we need? At the end of my first book (Riding the Dragon), written in 1993, I asked this question. I asked it again in 2005, in Writing the Bright Moment. Of course, I am still asking it.

How would it be to read books and hear stories that support us in being more fully and compassionately human? Ones that give us tools to grow and change; offer us models of functional, healthy patterns of relating – whether to ourselves, to each other, to the wider human sphere or to the planet as a whole, rather than narratives that merely underline how grim ‘reality’ is, and how untrustworthy and self-seeking people are, thus confirming our view of the world and the human condition as basically beyond hope?

We need now stories that offer us healing, offer us the potential of wholeness, of coming through in the end. Empowering stories. Stories that show us human being at its best: its most courageous, generous, kind, loving, compassionate, wise, funny. Stories that celebrate the earth, wilderness, the diversity of nations, the diversity of species. Inclusive stories that allow us to imagine a new world order based on empathy, co-operation, kindness, discussion, negotiation, fairness, equality.

Stories that celebrate what is green, what is vulnerable, what is innocent, what is childlike, what is wise, what is empowered feminine, what is empowered masculine; stories about co-operation and harmony rather than competition and conflict; about people making wise choices. Stories that celebrate magic, mystery, miracle. Stories that help restore some sort of faith, whatever that may mean for each of us. 

© Roselle Angwin
This has been excerpted partly from Writing the Bright Moment (see sidebar) and partly from my essay in Prompted to Write, edited by Victoria Field and Zeeba Ansari (fal 2007).


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