The Power of Narrative

Holiday_Books_Large

“Let me tell you a story.”

I love those words. I can remember as a child waiting eagerly for whatever followed, because I grew up with relatives and teachers who used narrative as a primary tool. They told stories. And there’s a power in that, one with the ability to produce such resonance or dissonance that the world can be forever changed. That is why this time of year it is of particular importance to be mindful of the stories we tell ourselves.

I have had the concept of “narrative” on my mind recently because of the Common Core State Standards. There is a push to minimize literature in our curriculum and focus on Informational texts. Here’s the rub, every text is an informational text. Every article, graph, excerpt from an autobiography, they tell a story. They aren’t always in the structure of our standard narrative with the fixed setting, characters and conflict, but they are stories, nonetheless. Heck, even a math problem can be a narrative. If you don’t believe me, find a second grader and ask to assist with her math homework. Trust me, you’ll be telling stories.

Beyond the significance of this point for my teaching colleagues and I, lies the importance of narratives in our own lives, especially this time of year. It is typically stressful to begin with, but add our Nation’s recent tragedy and we find ourselves gripped by one particular story: evil and the loss of innocence. It’s a tragic, but common feature appearing since the beginning of oral storytelling. But so is the advent of the hero, the virgin birth, the everyday miracle. Yes, there are narratives to choose from, and that is vital.

I don’t write light and uplifting stories, so this may sound strange coming from me, but we should focus on a positive slant concerning the stories in our lives. That’s not to say throw on the proverbial “rosy sunglasses” and prance around like everything is fine. Because that’s ridiculous, because it is not. But that also doesn’t mean we should dwell in the darkness.

How you see your holidays unfolding, the story you tell about the travel or the interactions with your family will affect how you conduct yourself. The ol’ self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m as guilty of it as the next person. On the surface, it’s a simple mistake of judgment, but when it is repeated it becomes a belief. And belief can distort everything, for good or bad. And once you filter all stories through the only one you have available, nothing is as it seems.

Therefore, believe in letting the story unfold. Watch the characters develop. Don’t mentally “read ahead” and try to outwit the writer. Enjoy the setting and the conflicts. Neither are typically permanent and often the resolution of the latter is the most rewarding piece of all. Let the story breathe and throw away your preconceived notions of how it should be.

The Holidays are a time filled with the unexpected. And in the ensuing week I wager that acts of kindness will make a return. The world seeks balance, and its story is constantly righting from the last dip. So let us help by not minimizing, but in honoring, and in telling ourselves what we know is true, and that everything else will eventually be revealed.

Happy Holidays.

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A Christmastime suggestion from The Art of Manliness

It may be cheesy or cliched, but It’s A Wonderful Life is my favorite holiday movie. George Bailey’s character resonates with me on so many levels, at times it’s almost difficult to watch his anguish and suffering. But, of course, there’s the beauty of the end, the friendship, the message of the importance of every person’s life. Yeah, I get teared up. And so should you 🙂

I intended to write a post about this movie, my experience with it, the twenty some odd times I’ve watched it, the tradition my wife and I now have with it, and on and on. But I’m not writing that post.

I’m in the middle of edits for my next novel and they are eating up all my time. I did not want to throw together a shoddy post just because my brain is fried, and was, therefore, delighted to come across this post from The Art of Manliness.

“The George Bailey Technique: Mentally Erase Your Blessings for Greater Joy and Optimism” is  some very good advice. If you are looking for how to gain some perspective in this busy time of year, be it because of life stress or an inability to find that holiday spirit, follow the link.

I will be crafting my next novel into the best piece it can be, and promise to report back once I’ve survived.

And If you get the chance, watch It’s A Wonderful Life. If you don’t have time for the entire movie, here’s my favorite scene:

The Devine Family Tree

Tree

Christmas trees are like visiting relatives, sometimes they reveal a little too much; often they retell the most embarrassing stories; seldom are you worse for their visit 😉 Therefore, since a tree has been ushered into my home as a symbol of the season, I thought I’d share a little like the relatives. First piece, that tree above fell to the floor last night, spraying water everywhere and sending my daughters into giggles. Today a dumbbell and a bungee cord are supplying necessary support.

Ornament-me

I was born almost two months premature. My mother made it her mission to make up for my undercooking by packing the weight on. I went from skinny to plump as an infant, and then maintained a “hefty” frame as a toddler. But the best part of this ornament is my grin. Holy, God was I happy. Disclaimer: my daughters thought I was a girl.

Ornament-Pac Man

The Pac Man ornament is one of my most prized, so much so that when my mother gave my wife the original, I recreated it so that the replica still hangs on their tree. Yes, there are two of these. Eat your heart out Etsy. I don’t know why I like it so much, but I distinctly remember making it in second or third grade. The entire scene is lodged in my memory, the Christmas music in the background, the smell of the paint, the laughter from the class. Fortunately styrofoam packs well, because I plan on taking this bad boy to the grave.

Ornament-Chloe

From the time I was a senior in high school until two years ago, I owned a one-eyed dog, Chloe. I idiotically got her as a gift for my wife (yes, I married my high school sweetheart), and through the act of a vicious cat, she ended up half blind. But what she lacked in sight, she made up for in personality. She was simply awesome. Loyal, and keen in that way only a dog can be. This ornament is one of my daughters’ favorite, which makes my heart swell, because Chloe’s was the first death they experienced, and appropriately, they remember her fondly.

Ornament-bad

The ornament above does not say “bad”. Seriously, read it again. Ridiculous, I know. It does spell bad, but the irony is that it was purchased by my daughter from her school. It was supposed to read “Dad”. And the irony is only made sweeter by knowing me. This ornament may be the most perfect on the tree.

Ornament-Dough Boy

I love the Dough Boy, which is odd, because as someone with diabetes, I don’t devour many of his products. But there’s just something about his playful, innocent nature that I adore. I giggle every time I hear that belly-squirming laugh of his, and the older my children become, the more I want to hold onto that sound.

Ornament-Adieu

I couldn’t think of a more appropriate ornament to end with. This is from a colleague upon her retirement mid-year. Yes, it’s from Romeo and Juliet for those of you quizzing yourselves. I love the simplicity and the sentiment. “Parting is such sweet sorrow…” And that is how is feels as each holiday slides away. But we’re not there yet. We’re in the midst of shopping and crafting and stressing. So it goes. But take a moment, and consider your ornaments, or whatever holiday decorations you adorn your home with. They all tell a story. And like those relatives, it’s important that we listen.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy Holidays.

Last Signing of 2012

B&N Colonie

One week from today I will be at Barnes and Noble in Saratoga Springs, NY, my last signing of 2012. The signing serves a dual purpose as my school is holding a Bookfair that day. Therefore, if you would like a signed copy of Tap Out as a Chanukkah, Christmas or Holiday gift, this is your last chance.

And if you already have a copy, no worries, come on out, say hey, and pick up another item form B&N, as proceeds form the day’s sales help the freshman class.

I hope to see you. And be careful shopping out there.