The Value of a Story

January 1, 2014.  It’s been a while, and I’ve not much to say for myself, except that I joined Facebook (probably enough said) and have spent no small amount of time chasing shiny objects to ends sometimes worthwhile, other times… not so much. I joined conceding that, just maybe, social media really is the best way to spread information. And noting there are other writers much better and more knowledgeable than I, it seemed a better use of time and space to simply re-post those writers than to spin my own wheels regurgitating their wisdom in a style that is, at best, amateur. In part, I still accept that truth. But I’m realizing there’s something else to this exercise in writing and posting. This, after all, is the space of my story… all selfish and limited and human. A space that, on average and if I’m lucky, about 15 people in the universe will read… that is, unless I work a name like Michelle Chamuel into the content, in which case the number jumps up a little (There. I did it… maybe 20).

So… sitting here at a little café on this first day of the new year, listening to Brandi Carlile crooning her own lyrical stories across the waves… Hang on, just hang on for a minute, I’ve got something to say… , I’m contemplating why it is that my little stories matter. There are powerful people in the world trying to convince us that our lives and stories don’t matter at all… powerful people with a great deal to lose should too many of our stories leak into the consciousness of a relatively passive citizenry.  On Facebook I’ve posted (more than once) this quote from David Coleman: “… as you grow up in this world, you realize people don’t really give a shit about what you feel or think.” He goes further to say, “It is a rare working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’” Here, Susan Ohanian offers a critical argument to the fallacy of his thinking, and for those who don’t know, David Coleman is the writer of the new Common Core State Standards for public education… also corporate panderer extraordinaire. To be fair, the larger context of Coleman’s speech held room for opinion so long as it could be substantiated for marketplace value…  for marketplace value–reduced to the lowest common denominator, for sale and for profit. That, of course, allocates most narrative forms to a precarious position relative to the ongoing dialogue in education; little wonder Coleman upholds informational text–not narrative or even a balanced combination of genres–as the superior means for students to develop an understanding of the world because, let’s face it, any curriculum that includes equal amounts narrative, might very well get in the way of creating a workforce of emotionless automatons for corporate profit. Blogger Dina (no last name that I could find) said this, “… Coleman’s convictions place the needs of the marketplace definitively over those of a holistic approach to personhood and education.” Visit her post from 2011 for her insights on Steve Jobs’ decidedly market unfriendly and personal musings and readings.

For the purpose of argument, here’s a lyrically depraved read of a portion of my personal story.  Because no one gives a shit (according to Coleman), I’ll leave out the poetry and be quick about it: I’m the granddaughter of a Louisiana Pentecostal radio preacher–a drinker, I’ve been told, who once took an ice pick to the family pictures. My father rebelled against his father, becoming Baptist and dry, and did his damnedest to rid his psyche of the violence he’d known as a child. No surprise that growing up in an age when real men showed no fault or vulnerability and most certainly did not seek help, he fell somewhat short. I picked up his Baptist torch and preached the Christian salvation into my 20s until I faced the exploitive nature of religion as a Baptist missionary in Japan, soon after the experience discarding Christianity for agnosticism (though I still believe that Jesus was one of the kindest and most compassionate human beings ever to walk this earth). Still, I couldn’t see the pervasive nature of patriarchy that, as yet, governed the workings of my own psyche and so entered a marriage that despite all my feminist ideals, fell to those values. I divorced, began questioning my sexuality in earnest and entered a more meaningful relationship with a woman… Enough.

I get that the threads of connection in that story are loosely knotted, at best, and that’s where an education that informed my humanity, not my market value, began helping me make sense of my history and my self. It was sitting in a graduate lit class that I found Virginia Woolf and allowed her stories to inform my own. I wrote little thoughts and connections in the margins of the pages of her stories long before I learned that these were the behaviors, strategies even, of good readers… strategies that David Coleman suggests are wasted efforts if one is to be truly academic.

I digress…

It was through Woolf’s narratives that I began to understand the patriarchal values of the world and of my family (most families)… the conscious and subconscious values of conquer and control by whatever prejudicial means necessary… age, race, gender, sexuality… . From there it was a short leap to Jose Saramago’s rich allegory, Blindness, and the failure of every institution rooted in patriarchal hierarchy, to spare humanity the cages of profit and power—the cages that throughout history have marginalized any unique population and subdued the masses for emperors, for fathers, for anyone seeking to exploit such values to their own ends. They are the values of World Corporate and of those seeking to corporatize American education.  Am I surprised that Coleman might want to limit students’ exposure and thinking? Armed with my own narrative and the narrative texts that inform it, I see something of the manipulations of power and the necessity of ignorance and submission if this powerful elite is to succeed. Coleman and those of his ilk would much rather we all remain institutionally blinded.  Funny that Thomas Jefferson advocated for free public education not on grounds of marketability, but for the purpose of thinking itself–so that we would be a responsible, empathic citizenry that could keep the country balanced and healthy. We’re losing ground… fast.

I know that my reflections here represent only a small fraction of the many reasons the world needs more stories. Michelle Chamuel, Brandi Carlile, an old friend whom I just learned has cancer… David Coleman himself (should he let down his corporate guard)–each has a different purpose for sharing and experiencing narrative. And despite anything Coleman or anyone else says, the experience of your story might very well open doors that I never imagined—academic doors, vocational doors, tender, emotional doors—that lend more purpose and more value to my life and yours and others… than any story that serves an end of profit.

And so… I wish you many stories in 2014. And for the sake of those around you–for the sake of all–I hope you share.

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5 Comments

Filed under feminist, gay rights, gender, inclusion, institutions, memoir, politics, relationships, society

5 responses to “The Value of a Story

  1. Janice this is incredible. I have enjoyed every word! Our stories DO matter, and we need to be sharing more not less. We need to allow others to see into our worlds, our challenges, and what we are doing to overcome them.
    Thank you so much for sharing about your past, your journey, your present. I feel even closer to you as a friend in this blogging family, and I appreciate that. In the interest of sharing a bit more about me, and since your post here reminded me of it, here’s a post I wrote June 2012 called I Am Somebody, about how every single one of us has something to say, and we don’t need to be like anyone else. I hope you enjoy it when/if you have a moment to check it out. Warmest wishes to you and yours!
    Hugs, Gina
    http://professionsforpeace.com/2012/06/23/i-am-somebody/

    • Oops.. guess I might want to mention that story is over on my spiritual blog called Professions For PEACE. We’ve connected here in my ‘living green’ blogging world, and I’m so glad we have. 🙂

      • Gina, thanks so much for reading and encouraging. I just went to your post and teared up as I read. I left a note there on my son’s words to me about needing to appreciate what’s good in the world. You reflect his feelings so beautifully. I think, perhaps, it’s a nudge from the Universe for me to spend a little more time in gratitude for all that is wondrous and just and beautiful. Thank you.

    • And, yes… I feel your kinship, my blogger friend.

  2. Jayne

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. I believe I am of similar opinion, especially on the potential for narrative writing to help kids create meaning in their lives…and the importance of it. Time to start a revolution …in meaning.

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