Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Sharing Stories

    Recently I was dining with a few friends and someone told a story. MY story. It was about a funny thing that happened to me several years ago, and I've told it a few times since it happened. But this time, I sat quietly as it was told to a table of people, from someone else's point of view, as if it happened to the teller. I was fascinated. I listened for how different the details would  be- the story teller got a few wrong, but also, dressed some up to be really visual. He held his hands up and made a worried face for some of the story, and gave the characters actual lines, where in my version of the story, there is really no dialogue.
    He got a few laughs, and I wasn't sure whether to be proud or mad about it. Mostly, I was just fascinated by the way stories come to have their own lives.
    I think I've done this before, had this deeply familiar story that turned out to be something that actually happened to a sibling, for instance. Just this morning I told Scott something that I immediately doubted- did my friend bring my dog to visit me while I was on retreat that time? Or did she just say she thought about bringing the dog? It would have been really nice to see my dog there, that emotional weekend, and somehow I can see him, on the other end of the leash from my lovely friend, just lovely that she even thought to do that, even if it didn't really happen.
    One of our family  legends is told by my uncle, who would swear on the birthplace of the baby Jesus that my brother, as a young kid, pulled the tablecloth out from under a table full of dishes, like a magician. I've heard that story evolve over the years- over time the background details have developed; at one point my brother was just threatening to do it, and I think at some points in the history of its telling the trick was successful and at others, not so. I remember hearing how mad my parents were, and the most interesting detail to me is that my uncle says now that my brother was reading a book about magic tricks, and that's what inspired him to attempt it.
    Honestly I have no idea what happened or didn't happen. But I like that my uncle feels this ownership over the story, and I can tell that he has vivid vivid images in his head when he tells it, seeing it all unfold just as plain as day, even while my family sits around him with their eyes rolling and their heads shaking nooooooo, that's not how it wasssss. 
    I think I heard on Radiolab that our memories are pretty much stored in our brains like files in a filing cabinet, and that they get changed every time we pull them out and look at them. So, they said (I think) the best way to keep a memory/file pristine is to never pull it out. What a conundrum! Is it better to have our perfectly preserved memories hidden away, or our stories constantly remolded over time? Maybe our most-mused-over memories and stories bear very little resemblance to our real experience, after a while. But, you know, maybe they're better than the originals.
    I kind of like the idea that  my story can become someone else's memory, even if it's not true. Maybe the reason my friend felt so involved in that story is because of my vivid telling of it. Yep, that's probably what happened, or at least, that's how I'm going to remember it.

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