Why Stories Give Life Meaning

once-upon-a-time1As my two-year-old daughter begs me for another story, it makes me think about the power of stories in our lives.

The child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, maintained that children’s fairy tales speak directly to the human subconscious, helping children to make sense of a chaotic world. This is because fairy tales and folklore have essentially been distilled in the telling, from one generation to the next. The verbal aspect of telling stories to children being of huge importance as each story is tweaked according to the immediate reaction of the child.

However, fiction is important to adults too. The universal importance of fiction to human beings can’t be denied.

We are immersed in stories in our daily lives. There are the anecdotes we share with each other every day, our favourite novels, TV shows and songs, not to mention daily news feeds through social media and increasingly the creation of fictional worlds in gaming. It’s something marketers have noticed some time ago – selling their products with a story is hugely effective. Even when we sleep, our brains are creating dream stories.

However, it is not simply a matter of entertainment or escapism. Modern studies in evolutionary psychology show that humans depend on the construction of narrative to exist. We narrate to create order in a chaotic world. Our ability to ‘spin a yarn’ is not some accidental by-product of evolution. It is essential to our survival. In the race for the ‘survival of the fittest’, the tale-telling humans won. It’s more than the educational aspect of sharing vital information; our ability to imagine that something might be painful or a bad ‘idea’ protects us from danger. Imagining what the future will be like keeps us moving forward. What would we be doing right now, if we couldn’t conjure up a fictional tomorrow?

In this digital age, the rise of clubs such as The Moth Club proves that there’s still an appetite for the old fashioned art of verbal storytelling. The gathering together of a group to share stories is much more than a social event. It is well known that the sharing of stories (and even the writing of stories that no one may ever read) is therapeutic. The cathartic effect of group storytelling is already well known. Many Arts therapists use a method called ‘the six-part story’, to facilitate a sort of indirect and nonintrusive communication of experience. Narrative therapy helps people to write – and if necessary redefine – their own life story and to defend their personal story rights. The story we believe about ourselves has a huge impact on our mental health.

The global organisation, Narrative4, believes that sharing stories has the potential to be life changing. I plan to learn more about it Wednesday, November 5th here in UL. In the meantime, I’m off to read my little girl another story.

~Linda Fennelly

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Writing Through the Digital Noise

candle_Candle_light_4010I’m writing this during a power outage.  It’s just me, the dark and the last gasps of a dying laptop.  It’s actually perfect, because I have nothing else to do except write, albeit for just thirty-three remaining minutes of battery life.  I’ve been sitting at the kitchen table for an hour now with just the flickering flame and sickly sweet scent of an aromatic candle burning next to me.

I haven’t been able to fuss over having my writing desk set up just right, as I can’t use it.  There are no distractions as my phone is dead and the wi-fi is down.   I can’t do any housework, I can’t cook, I can’t make tea and I can’t even listen to music.  There is no noise, not even the vague electronic hum we normally don’t even notice.   The only sound is my tapping and the ticking of the clock on the wall.

So far, in just an hour and a half, I’ve written two thousand words.  That’s the same amount I normally write in a full day. A good day, at that.

It reminds me that successful writers are the ones who manage to somehow put themselves in this same place every single day.  They have the ability to ignore their telephones, their televisions, their social media apps or indeed any of the myriad digital distractions available.  They just sit down and write, as if there was nothing else in the world they’d prefer to do.

It makes me think how much easier it must have been to produce a body of work years ago, before our lives became so busy with such….noise.

It’s easy to imagine Charlotte Bronte sitting down to write one day and emerging some six weeks later with a solid first draft of Jane Eyre.  She had little to do all day except watch over her recuperating father, and lose herself in a world of romance on the moors of Northern England.

Not so long ago, I attended a talk given by the novelist Belinda McKeon, author of the excellent and highly acclaimed novel ‘Solace’.  Endearingly modest, she spoke emphatically about having to find the time, space and motivation to write in the modern world.

She knew that droplets of time had to be somehow wrung out of every day.  However, she was also very honest about the challenges of retreating from the endless barrage of modern distractions – Twitter, emails, texts, Facebook, etc. – to be able to write.

She also said that if she hadn’t completed a Masters in Creative Writing, she may never have finished her book.  It was a wonderfully refreshing lecture, a frank admission that this successful author faces just the same motivational challenges as the rest of us.  She also gave us some real, tangible advice; download an app called Freedom. It blocks your internet for a set amount of time, giving you little to do but actually get words down on paper.

Whenever I go abroad, I love that I can get some work done – real work, physical words and pages that pour from me as I have no internet, little TV and only as much telephone as the intermittent signal will allow.

That, and tonight’s power cut is a lesson.  I need to install that app, sit down with my laptop at the kitchen table and just get on with it.

~ Rachael Kealy