Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Short Story

I've been thinking for a long time about stories: about what they are and why they have such power over us.

You know what I mean. We are all constantly telling stories. We are dying to hear stories. The whole point of the telephone and all its descendants is so that we can more quickly and efficiently tell our stories. The newspaper is a daily dose of stories; all of television and cinema are stories. Even documentaries are stories—the good ones at least—and the ones that fail to make a story of their subject are often the ones we have in mind when we yawn at the idea of documentaries. Half of the songs on the radio tell stories ("Here's the thing—we started out friends..."), and for the other half we supply stories ("Every breath you take, every move you make..."), and we feel especially lucky when at a concert we hear the true story behind a song from the lips of its creator ("This next song is one I wrote after my girlfriend left me...").

The vast majority of scripture is story rather than sermon. The lessons and classes from my youth I still remember I remember because they were wrapped in stories; the teachers I remember most vividly were storytellers.

That much is given. What I haven't ever pinned down is why. Why do we love stories so much? Why are they so important and so powerful? What difference does it make whether a story is true or not?

Tonight I was watching a fine film when I realized one part of it. We—should I say I?—I love stories because they tell me who I am. Or rather, or more often, they tell me who I am not, which is just another way of telling me who I am. I am not, say, the Count of Monte Cristo, nor am I Edward Rochester. I am not Robin Hood. When I read them or see them, I can feel stirrings of antipathy or of common feeling. I say in myself, "I have never felt that way," or "I have had that experience," or, "I would not have acted that way." In seeing others—all others in all stories—I come to see myself: my boundaries come into focus. I can say, "I am not you; I am me," with more alacrity. Stories help turn the vast field of emotion and color that is my mind's-eye view of the world into a great big Venn diagram: "Here's where Rochester and I intersect; here's where we do not."

We all do this. How often have you interrupted a friend telling you about some experience at the grocery store to say, "If I had been there, I would've done this"?

Perhaps this idea offers a way to evaluate literature and literary merit. I know I am guilty of indulging in stories merely for the sake of not having to think for awhile. This summer it was five seasons of NCIS. I also often read just to find out what happens: notice the three Star Wars titles that have shown up on my list this summer. They weren't very good or all that exciting, and I certainly didn't feel any deep connection with Luke and the gang. I just wanted to see how things turned out (the Empire never struck back).

Seems to me these are lesser uses of story (not that there's anything wrong with recreation—I'm not so high-brow as that). It certainly feels different to read, say, Jane Eyre than to read Heir to the Empire. Jane tells me things I didn't know about myself. She makes me more of me.1

Not that it need be one or the other. Harry Potter, for one, has done all three for me. Not only have I been able to while away the hours countlessly, I've wondered intensely what would happen next, and I've seen myself in and out of Harry, Snape, and the rest.

So there it is. We love stories.

We love stories because they tell us who we are. They separate us from all other living beings.2

1 "I've always known myself," Jane says in the fine film I watched this evening. "But Mr. Rochester was the first to recognize me."

"Know thyself," goes the Greek proverb.

To be so lucky.

2 They also connect us to all other living beings, but that's another idea for another day. "Come in and know me better, man!"

"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee."

Monday, August 18, 2008

How It Turned Out

Well, I slept until about 2:30 am. I think my body thought it was just a nap. After that I watched a movie, did a crossword or two, read.

Round two of this fight begins tonight!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Big Effort

Alright, it's time. Tonight I take back the night.

Somehow I've gotten turned around and I've been sleeping from about 7 am to 2 pm every day. It's weird. I tried several times to just stay up all night and on through the next day, but I haven't been able to make it without crashing in the afternoon. But today is different. I slept from 7 to about 11, got up and went to church (and stayed awake!), came home and made dinner, and then went to my sister's house—no napping! Now it's 8:50 and I'm going to go jump in my bed and sleep. Yay!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Have You Seen This?

This is weird and quite funny. But weird.

I just listened to a monologue about dogs in ponchos—on a site about grape-nuts.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Game Night

Last night was the first Grover Family Game Night.1

The night began with a pre-game night game of Yahtzee, with Liz winning the first game and me winning the second. Yahtzee dances abounded.

After that I put on my Game Night clothes2 (including my lucky socks), and we congregated in the kitchen to formally initiate Game Night with a tribute to Sarah and Andrew, the two siblings who couldn't be there: a tap dance. From there it was a furious game of Don't Eat Pete played with peanut butter M&Ms.

Don't Eat Pete

Place an M&M on each of the faces on your Don't-Eat-Pete board. Someone leaves the room and the rest designate one face to be "Pete." Then the person comes back and eats one candy at a time until he or she chooses "Pete," at which moment everyone yells, "don't eat pete!" and the person's turn is over.

When Don't Eat Pete petered out we slumped into the living room to play the Thimble Game (which is extra fun with kids who can't actually count to a hundred.

From small and simple things is great meyhem brought to pass.
The Thimble Game

Everyone sits in a circle and the person who's It fills a thimble full of water and chooses a secret number between 1 and 100. Then each person in turn guesses a number, to which It responds "Higher" or "Lower," narrowing down the range of choices. When someone guesses the secret number, instead of answering, It flings the thimbleful of water on them.

When that ended we decided to have an add-on dance party, in which each person in the group adds a dance move onto the growing chain. When we had gone around the circle two times or so we pumped up the music and put it all together. Here is a video of (most of) us doing the dance—see if you can follow all the moves in order (the video starts on the Harris):
  1. the White Boy
  2. the Squid3
  3. the Batman
  4. the Harris
  5. the Maracas
  6. the Pistol 360°
  7. the Crow
  8. the Worm (barely)
  9. the Magic
  10. the Snorkler
  11. the Harris II
  12. the Brady Bunch
  13. the Break Dancer
  14. the Sarah and Andrew Million-dollar Move
  15. the Ecstatic Chipmunk
  16. the Jimmy Stewart
  17. the Monkey

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(If for some reason the video isn't here or doesn't work,
click right here to see the video.)

The Moore's showed up just as we were finishing our dance-off, which embarrassed them more than us.

The next game was a feat of skill: a blind taste test. We blindfolded three or four people at a time and saw if they could taste the difference between name brand stuff and the generic brands, if they could differentiate between close cousins like Pepsi and Coke or Cheezits and Cheese Nips, and if they could identify candy bars at only a taste (Whatchamacallit and Zero proved difficult). As a tribute to our hometown we even had people try to tell the difference between regular Dr. Pepper and Dr. Pepper made with Sugar Land's own Imperial Pure Cane Sugar.

Everybody did well and felt sugarsick.

From there we split up—some kids ended up watching a movie; some grown-ups attacked the cocktail weenies; Liz and I sampled the Cinnamon Cake with Cinnamon Frosting that was a month in the making.4 Pretty soon I got embroiled in a eight player Rummikub game 'round the dining room table. We had to mix both our sets (one old, one new), which resulted in a lot of puzzling over colors.5

All in all it was a pretty good night. More dancing than one would expect, but that's the Grovers, I guess.

1 As opposed to the first Grover Family Luau, which has yet to happen.
2 read "clean clothes"
3 This summer's hottest dance move, and my own personal Yahtzee Dance.
4 Special thanks to Amy for sharing that post; find the recipe here. I slightly altered it—before step one insert Step 0: "Try to get someone else to make this and otherwise generally procrastinate for four weeks."
5 See tomorrow's post.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Two Complaints

1. Google Reader.

Don't get me wrong—I like and use Google Reader, but it has just one major flaw (that I know of): it strips all the formatting out of the websites it displays.

For those of you who don't know what Google Reader is, it's a program that keeps track of all the stuff you regularly read on the internet. Like, say you read a dozen friends' blogs everyday, scan a few webcomics, and maybe like to check to see what's new at or something. Instead of having to go to each website individually to check if anything's been updated, you can just enter each site into your Google Reader and it will check for you, grab what's new, and show it to you to read. It saves a lot of time and effort (you can check it out by finding the "reader" button on the top of Google's homepage, perhaps under the "more" button).

But what it doesn't do is show you the actual websites themselves. All you get is the text and photos displayed in simple black on white. Which is all well and good, but where's the joy in that? People go to a lot of trouble to make things look nice on their blogs and stuff—they pick nice colors and fonts, interesting layouts, and constantly update endless sidebars—but I'm not getting to appreciate any of that anymore. All I get is the naked text. So democratic. There should be a button on Google Reader to open a tab to each updated page in one click.

2. Local News.

Forget all the hype about a liberal media bias, the true culprits of funky journalism are the local cats. All I see, in no matter which city I live, is an endless war between stations offering the most accurate weather team, the most hard-hitting investigative journalism, and the most local local-interest stories. It's shameless and irrelevant.

Watching them squeeze every possible drop of story out of nothing makes me sick. Seeing them attempt to wield executive powers several steps beyond "investigating" is troubling. Seeing my neighbors actually tape their windows today in anticipation of a tropical storm making landfall today is laughable—and certainly the result of overhyped, quarter-hourly updates by our city's opportunistic news media.

My writer friends and I often talked derisively (and somewhat jealously) about bad literature, bestsellers, tell-all memoirs—stuff we find distasteful or dishonest about our field. I don't know what my journalism friends talk about, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was it.