Stories help us make sense of the world, they inspire us and thrill us. Stories offer travel, escapades, adventure. We sip on them like a cool drink on a hot day, let them refresh us. But while stories can be transportive, they can also ground us. We learn about our role in the world through stories. From an early age, we are exposed to the notion of morality, to the perils of unwarranted trust, the devastation of loss, to the reality of emotional growing pains. In essence, we are exposed to the dynamics of human life.
Take a moment to consider what stories you tell yourself. Fantasies, daydreams, worries… these enter the mind in a story-like way. Dreams, too, imprint the brain in such a way. We imagine scenarios in an attempt to understand.
I was bullied a lot as a kid, which I think is part of the reason I’m so obsessed with stories. Stories offer a way out. But they also offer a way in… Which brings me back to my earlier conclusion that some stories ground us whereas others might transport us. Here I renege. Sort of. I’ve presented too clear of a dichotomy. Rather, it’s not that some stories transport us and others don’t. It’s that stories reflect human queries and in analyzing a story’s proposed answer we find ways to reassess our own understandings.
Growing up, I thought of stories as alternative places, better places, ones that were safe and welcoming (essentially I was in love with Harry Potter and like every other millennial child, yearned for Hogwarts like none other) but what I didn’t consider is how stories taught me to interact with my own life. Hogwarts will never be a part of my reality. Understanding, however, like Harry, that one’s future can be shaped by perseverance could influence my reality.
So I’ve come to learn that stories are far more powerful than sheer fantasies in which one can indulge. They help us make decisions, empower us and encourage us. Sure, some stories bring us up and away, transport us to some magical place. But that doesn’t mean they don’t offer a glimpse into the human condition.
What fascinates me most is that stories aren’t afraid of you. They aren’t afraid to tell you what you don’t want to hear. In fact, they want to. They revel in their ability to make you squirm, laugh or cry. I think we know this and this is why we use stories to explore our own goals or fears. We know that in considering these stories we are being told something vital about ourselves, something we may or may not want to acknowledge. Might I take a moment to congratulate the subconscious on its stellar story-telling capabilities.
The bullies of my childhood managed to successfully torment me because they found my weak spot. As a kid, I was easily manipulated, perhaps because I held a strong faith in the world or perhaps because I was so desperate to make friends that I was willing to turn a blind eye, regardless of the reason, I let people tell me who I was. I let them make me feel disposable, alone, ugly or overtly strange. The point is that from an early age I was looking to escape. This manifested in several ways, one of which turned out to be incredibly positive. The place to which I escaped was filled with fairies and other fantastical creatures… creatures who became my friends. My belief in fairies was so strong that I’ll omit telling you just how old I was when I finally began to let that belief die out (my unwavering beliefs probably didn’t help with the friend making process but oh well.) Nevertheless, I told myself these stories to cope.
I preferred fantasy to my own reality, but looking back on what, at the time, I’d assumed was sheer escapism, I now see as something different. I see a girl who discovered that the realm of story and her own world were not two disjointed places, but rather, two places bound by a mixture of imagination and rational thought. They aid one another. Rational thought is furthered by engaging the imagination and vice versa and it is out of that collaboration, I do believe, that stories are born.