I have yet to write something on this blog that I thought might get me in trouble, but I think I've just arrived at that point.
I have spent the last couple of months listening to an endless string of personal narrative. That seems to be the prevailing trend in storytelling.
Hey, did something horrible happen to you? Tell it on stage.
Hey, did you ever go to third grade? Clearly you need to tell it on stage.
Hey, did you ever get your heart broken? Tell it on stage.
Hey, did your uncle ever say something inane? Tell it on stage.
Hey, did (take your pick) ever happen? Tell it on stage.
Hey, guess what? Personal narrative is without question one of the absolute hardest types of telling to master or even do well.
Most of the ones I hear aren't crafted well.
Most of the ones I hear are really self indulgent.
Most of the ones I hear have nothing to do with the audience, they are about the teller.
Most of the ones I hear don't have a good story arc.
Most of the ones I hear have terrible phrasing.
Most of the ones I hear don't produce lasting images.
Most of the ones I hear mean a great deal to the people telling them and little or nothing to the members of the audience.
Most of the ones I hear need some serious editing.
Not everything that happens to you or your uncle or your grandmother is worth putting on the stage. That seems to be something we have forgotten. There is a serious quality control thing going on with stories. There are always some lovely ones in the midst of the ones that are bewildering, boring, overly self indulgent, confusing, or just run of the mill.
We have become a nation of people who put our whole lives on facebook and twitter and every single thing that happens to us seems like something we should broadcast to the whole world. We seem to have lost the line between private and public. Stories that belong around our kitchen table and at the family reunion are on stages all over the country.
This seems to encourage others who think any random event in their life is worthy of a story. It is not, unless you find a way to take it to the universal. Unless you make it a story about us instead of a story about you, we don't care. Sadly, that is true of most of the personal narrative we encounter.
There can be magic and wonder in stories. There can be joy and discovery in stories. There can be laughter and hope in stories. There can be ironic twists and turns. There are so many things we can find in stories. They ought to fly. They ought to sing. They ought to....
Wait. Have I lost my mind? Who am I to say what a story has to be? Who am I to say what we all should be doing? There has to be a place for this type of random, windblown story in our society, since this is what people want. Plus, how much research do you really have to do to tell your own story. A few literary allusions here and there, and bam, instant story out of having breakfast. Why not? The short story on stage. We are all just actors in our own play, why not put it on stage?
There is a place for personal narrative, just as there is a place for traditional stories. This has always been true. Perhaps those of us who follow the path of crafting and honing and working a story until it's bones are our bones, are threatened. Perhaps we feel our extinction. Perhaps we feel that the world holds nothing but the end for us.
Well, that is as it may be. Still, I don't think I would mind personal narrative so much if the people who told them worked as hard to craft them and make them sing as they do trying to find random events in their life to put on stage.
End of rant.