“Astonishment gives pleasure; evidence of this is the fact that everyone exaggerates when passing on news, on the assumption that they are giving pleasure”
“If impossibilities have been included in a poem, that is an error; but it is correct if it attains the end of the art itself…”
–Aristotle, from Poetics
Last weekend my six-year old daughter told me a story about being at her mommy’s house. We were decorating pink frosted Valentine’s Day cupcakes with sprinkles, and she remembered a time her mother and her made cupcakes. Her story was simple. It began: “At my mommy’s house we made cupcakes for my birthday. Then we brought them to Nana’s (her grandma’s house), and I got to eat two whole cupcakes!” I replied, “What a lovely story.” To which she turned her head with a furrowed brow and a grimace, remarking, “It’s not a story, daddy!” I said, “Well, of course it is. Someone did something; something happened to someone. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. It wasn’t a very good story—next time include a dragon—but it was a story.” Before you rage against my parenting skills, I’d like you to know I tell this to everyone; I even say this when relating my own stories (“I should throw a dragon in there next time”).
So, her grimace now became frustrated, “But it really did happen, daddy!” Now this is where I shine. I said, “Well, stories can be true and not true. You are still telling me a story when you tell me about something that happened to you. Even if it’s just going upstairs to use the bathroom. It’s still a story. It’s just better when there’s a dragon. More dramatic.” Yes, this is how I talk to my six-year old. I tend not to belittle her or make that awful “child speak” that people often do. I use big words. And I tend to explain everything at eye level. She’s an individual to me, and I am so happy that she finally has an opinion.
As I was explaining to my gf the other night: many people tend to think children are not very smart, or rather, observant (I am thankful if you, dear reader, are not one of these people; but you should read on anyway). I tend to think they are absolute geniuses. Let me explain with an example. Some people think children don’t consider race, class, or gender when watching Disney films, or, say, playing with toys. And, therefore, do not consider those issues on our privileged, adult or mature level. But I think they are very wise; wiser than us.
You see, they have nothing to do. No bills to pay. No cars to fill with gas. No groceries to accumulate. No job. They don’t worry about sex, or looking good, or being confident around a pretty boy or girl. They don’t worry about shaving, or where food comes from, or what’s in their bank account, or taxes. All they do is watch you. They are learning how to be a person. All day, every day. And playing. 90% of their waking time is figuring out how to best utilize their play time, i.e. who can play with me, when can they play, how long, and what game. They make friends by proximity, not a shared morality, interests, or hobbies. So, that’s it: Play and Mimic us. Children have a sincerely simple and myopic view of life: it is black or white. There is always a rule present: either you follow it or you don’t. That’s it. And following that rule depends solely upon what brand of attention the child wants, and from whom they want it.
So, to my point. It is clear that my daughter firmly holds this logic: A story is a lie, and lying is bad (due to parental enforced consequences). Therefore, I should not lie; I should not tell stories. Here’s the rub: I don’t see it that way. I think we all tell stories. We are a social, story telling species. When I ask you, “How are you doing?” Then you tell me a story. Same with, “How was your day?” I get a story (hopefully a good one). Now, there is no possibility that you can tell me an accurate version of a story. It is always colored. Your perspective colors it with a Crayola of tones, adverbs, and adjectives like grey sadness (like Eeyore) or pink worry (like Piglet)—for just a few examples. And you decide, every time, how to tell your story. You decide where to begin, where to end, and what details to include. Nietzsche states that we actively forget. If not, we would never move! Every color or smell would provoke a memory, which in turn would provoke another memory, which would provoke another, and another. We would never move; or, even worse, never experience our amazing life; and in doing so never create new memories. So, we forget. Then, we embellish; we tell stories.
I broke my daughter’s chain of logic. She still looks at me with a weird, cock-eyed grimace when I tell her I like her story. You see, I want her to know what pleasure can be derived from hearing and telling a story, whether it is fact or fiction. That her life is not simply Black or White, Truth or Lie, Story or Reality. I don’t want her to tell me everything, but I want her to feel free to do so. In fact, I want her to tell me stories twice. Because each time, even if it is the exact same story, I’m a different person than I was two or thirty minutes ago. And I hear a uniqueness every time she tells it. Same with you. You haven’t told everything. You can’t. But what you piece together is You. So, the next time someone asks you about your day, remember that you’re telling them a story. So, color it well…