Vail Daily column: How we see our world
Ryan Summerlin July 18, 2014
Stories shape our lives.
The stories we tell others. The stories others tell us. The stories they tell about us. The stories we tell ourselves.
The stories we read and watch. For the campers among us, the stories we’ve told our kind at least since we developed language 50,000 or so years ago around the evening fire, now a blue cast in the dark from a screen full of ’em.
The stories our education teaches us. The stories that developed our government, our economy, our science, our medicine, our philosophies, our religions and anti-religions, our law, our crime, our wars, our sports, our entertainment, our culture.
How we communicate, engage each other, love and hate.
It’s all story.
Beginning, middle, end. Heroes, villains, fools. The foreshadowing we only discover later, the plot twists, the characters, the relationships, the ending we hope brings meaning.
Stories are why our brains are so big, why our offspring are born so early and so helplessly into the world, why Alzheimer’s is so, so devastating.
We like to think of our own stories as straight-up, if sometimes drama-tinged, journalism. But really, your narrative and mine include a fair amount of tall tale. We’re far more Michener than Cronkite. It ain’t just the way it is, or just the facts. Not by a long shot. We lie to tell ourselves that greater truth, the very definition of literature.
The science says that those of us lucky enough to have genes more predisposed to optimism tend to tell ourselves hopeful stories. Others come to life more vigilant, sensitive to danger and dark intent, and their stories follow that path.
Same facts and all, just interpreted differently.
We’re creative souls, and so we can change our personal story. With fresh perspective, we can reinterpret our past to make sense of the present and improve our prospects for the future.
My own story at 18 was that I was a writer, and so this was how I approached the world, against all evidence, by the way. My writing from elementary through high school earned me a long string of F’s and D’s. The only paper I finished to a teacher’s satisfaction came in my senior year, exploring that profound question of whether surfing was a religion or merely a sport. It was my one and only A. (After much adolescent if earnest sophistry, I settled on sport.)
Buddies laughed out loud when I declared that I’d write for a living someday. My father thought I was just fooling myself and needed nothing so much as to get over it. My mother bravely declared I could do anything I set my mind on, and anyway she was proud of me no matter what. But I don’t think she believed for a second this would work into a career for me.
My wife, when she was my girlfriend, told her mother that the new love of her life was “a writer.” My mom-in-law confessed later she had a good eye roll at her romantic daughter with that one. Didn’t her girl realize she was going out with an … ahem … firefighter? That dude hadn’t even finished college. How much of a “writer” could he possibly be?
But you can’t keep a good story down. Facts are not required, as our atheist friends and Santa killjoys will attest. And mine was completely irrational, highly improbable and viewed by almost everyone who loved me most as impossible.
Still, I clicked my heels, dreamed my dreams, put pen to paper and then typed up those longhand scribblings. Till voila! A couple of newspapers and a magazine published my work. I became a writer in fact as well as in the crazy story I told myself.
Now, I’ve never thought to ask why I told myself this story. Might as well ask a bee why it gathers honey. I don’t know. It was just baked in somehow. I’m compelled, as I imagine you are with certain things that make you who you are.
But that’s your story. Do tell.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at email@example.com and 970-748-2920.