This is a response to Willow's latest Magpie Tales visual creative writing prompt. Visit Magpie Tales and find all kinds of wonderful writers and poets and their takes on the prompt and giving hearty support to each others' creative efforts. Give it a try! A creative challenge is good for you!
"Some may think that to affirm dialogue–the encounter of women and men in the world in order to transform the world–is naively and subjectively idealistic. There is nothing, however, more real or concrete than people in the world and with the world, than humans with other humans." ~Paulo Freire
Once, when I was a teenager, I was away from home for a weekend with my family, and my [now former] stepfather kept repeating statements like “Jen is always so grouchy when she wakes up, ”or “ good MORNING grumpy!” It was when he started to mock my “miserable” face I thought, how do you EXPECT me to feel? I didn’t recall ever being grumpy or monstrous when I woke up in mornings, except, maybe, when my sister was hogging the shower and I was late for school. What made me grumpy and irritated was being told over and over again that I was miserable. And if I was miserable, I can assure you, it had nothing to do with the process of waking up; it was about someone else creating what I felt was an unfair and inaccurate picture of me and me feeling helpless to change it.
We understand our world through stories. Family stories, history books, religious parables, pop songs, news reports, art, employee manuals, report cards, mathematical theories, police reports, gossip, family photo albums, fashions, magazine ads… a mosaic of stories creates the backdrop to our perceptions and helps to form the way we see things. It’s up to you to decide if these things represent the reality of your experience. And if they don’t – it’s up to you to tell your story in a way that does.
When I was in university, I analysed lots of media. I intensively read papers and watched news shows and movies and deconstructed and compared and scrutinized and examined and questioned, and to my naturally critical and questioning mind I was in my glory. But more and more I was shocked to find the stories that were being used to define my community, my gender, my nation and my own role in my family were not how I was experiencing them myself.
During that time a new provincial government came in that lowered taxes by way of reducing welfare benefits and education funding and punching other holes in the social safety net.
This government knew the power of a story. Suddenly, there were attacks on certain groups in the media, such as, coincidentally, teachers and single mothers. I can tell you, this single mother did not enjoy being stereotyped as a lazy, beer swilling, cigarette smoking couch potato on welfare who fed her kids pancakes for dinner every night because didn’t know how to manage her grocery dollar. One notorious politician of the day graciously gave welfare mothers tips on how to stretch their reduced budget by buying dented cans of tuna and day old bread. Lots of people bought the stories these politicians were telling. Lots of us didn’t.
Whenever I speak with someone who is considering telling a personal story of any kind, I feel like something important is happening. Because I believe that when a person tells her own story, she is taking ownership of it – she is claiming her history. I believe that when someone tells his story, he is empowered to think critically about his place within his family, community, society, world. And when a person is empowered, opportunities for change arise, both personally and socially.
Maybe a group can alter the history represented in a text book, or a politician can take advantage of stereotypes to create a new community understanding, or a family member can try to paint a picture of you. But not one of them can change your story if you tell it. It’s up to you to determine how you fit into the grand march of history.
“Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen”.
~From Pretty Boy Floyd, Woody Guthrie