Salon WisdomSo I’m at the hair salon where I get my hair cut and colored. I love it there: no snobs, no fashionistas, just people—people who bring their pets, their kids, their latest trials and triumphs, and share if they want, or not if they don’t. It’s like a little town square…with blue shampoo.

On this particular day, two children have come with their mother—a boy about nine years old and his sister, a bit younger. I’m sitting under a heat lamp, my head sprouting layers of aluminum foil, thinking about the fate of the written word in the digital age, how it’s all going to hell and no one reads anymore, when one of the kids comes up to me and says, “So what do you do?” I tell him I’m a writer. “What do you write?” As it happens, I’m working on a children’s story and I think maybe I can crib some good ideas here. His sister joins him as I describe the beginning of the narrative and ask them what they think should happen next.

Human beings tell stories. From pale paintings on flickering cave walls to the In-depth self-examination of the modern memoir, we use stories to make sense of the information we absorb and the ocean of experience within which we live.

Both kids are bright and very forthcoming, and they take up my tale of a bear and his buddy with relish. Before I know it, the two characters are being held captive on a mysterious ship plowing through dangerous seas.

“Then what?” I ask.

They both pause for a moment and then the boy says, “I know! The whole ocean gets sucked into an underground river and the ship is sailing through these big caverns and huge pointy things are hanging down and falling on them and it’s dangerous and gigantic fish with huge teeth are biting at the boat and all of a sudden they…they…they…”

He pauses and his sister picks up the thread, “…they come to a big waterfall and they can see they’re about to go over the edge and nothing can save them.”

Ah, a girl after my own heart. I’ve always tended toward dark endings.

“So they go over the edge?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says cheerfully, “they go right over the edge and they’re falling and falling and falling…”

Her brother gives her a sideways glance, miffed but determined.

“Okay, okay, so they’re falling off the edge and it’s really a long way down, really really a long way… and while they’re falling…”

“Yeah?”

“And while they’re falling, they look at each other…”

“Yeah?”

“They look at each other and…”

“Yeah?”

His eyes narrow, then a smile begins to spread across his face and he starts nodding his head, his shoulders rocking back and forth with satisfaction. His sister and I are waiting eagerly, “What?”

He opens his hands, palms up, like he’s handing me something, and he says, “Suddenly they realize…they’re in a story!”

Human beings tell stories. From pale paintings on flickering cave walls to the In-depth self-examination of the modern memoir, we use stories to make sense of the information we absorb and the ocean of experience within which we live.

Neurobiological research suggests that we are hardwired for stories. Studies reveal that the physical development of the brain happens in a way that specifically provides for the ability to create a coherent narrative. Child psychiatrist and researcher Daniel Siegel, executive director of the Mindsight Institute, told Psychotherapy Networker, “Every culture on earth tells stories. For the last 40,000 years we, as a species, have been trying to bring what’s inside of us out—to make sense of what we see and put it out there for other people to hear. The capacity and need to tell stories is not only part of our culture, but part of our evolutionary heritage, built into our genetic code and embedded in the circuits of our brains.”

Back at the salon, I look at these two wonderful kids. Before this conversation, I had pretty much concluded that modern technology was creating a generation of borg-like robots whose sole purpose in life was playing violent video games and buying expensive shoes. Now, I have a glimmer of hope that the kids might be all right, that maybe we’re all moving toward realizing that the power lies not in the story but in us.

Today, the Internet has taken that evolutionary heritage and sent it spiraling through the digital world, a blossoming of communication unimaginable all those ages ago when we gathered around the fire and named the animals. Facebook, Instagram, and other social networking sites urge us to post our story, update our story, and illustrate our story, while in a pop-up window, Citicard asks: “What’s your story? We’ll help you write it.”

Marshall McLuhan described how, when we develop a new communication technology, we simultaneously create a new conceptual understanding, an extension of our consciousness. Maybe my fears about the devalued art of the well-crafted literary narrative ignore a profound possibility here. Maybe we’re moving toward a greater awareness, one in which we see more clearly how our stories shape our thinking and our actions, how they determine what we believe is possible.

Back at the salon, I look at these two wonderful kids. Before this conversation, I had pretty much concluded that modern technology was creating a generation of borg-like robots whose sole purpose in life was playing violent video games and buying expensive shoes. Now, I have a glimmer of hope that the kids might be all right, that maybe we’re all moving toward realizing that the power lies not in the story but in us.

I see the little girl is thinking hard. She looks up at her older brother.

“What happens then?”

He leans toward her and whispers, “Then,” he says, “they have a chance to change it.”

I watch her sweet round face as she considers this. After a moment, her eyes light up and she smiles, nodding her head slowly.

“Nice.”

Click here to see Rose’s tips for healthy and happy relationships

10 Comments

  • Barbara Bash
    Posted September 22, 2014 10:12 am 0Likes

    I love this piece !
    It is heartening and so true . . .
    also appreciated the interweaving of the story and the context –
    wonderful . . .

  • Joyce Reeves
    Posted September 22, 2014 11:07 am 0Likes

    A beautifully crafted, hopeful story for our times. Well done!

  • Michele Martin
    Posted September 22, 2014 11:11 am 0Likes

    The wonderful playfulness at the heart of a good story is so evident here, old and young on the same ship.

    • JulieMckelvey
      Posted September 22, 2014 6:02 pm 0Likes

      Imagination in our kids is still alive and well thank goodness. Excellent piece!

  • Barbara Osborn
    Posted September 22, 2014 8:00 pm 0Likes

    So much dizzying adventure in their story. Makes me grateful for my quiet afternoon and a cup of tea!

  • Stephanie Kaza
    Posted September 22, 2014 9:16 pm 0Likes

    Charming! I can see the whole scene — blue shampoo and all. Loved the ending and how it all wraps up. Quite Zen, eh?

  • Connie Kieltyka
    Posted September 23, 2014 11:16 am 0Likes

    Nice story. Well written intriguing. Makes me want to read on. Life is one big story isn’t it.

  • Tom Lopez
    Posted September 24, 2014 8:40 am 0Likes

    Nice indeed.

  • Robin White Owen
    Posted September 24, 2014 6:53 pm 0Likes

    I love the ending especially! As the author so patiently notes, “the power lies not in the story but in us.” Because as the little boy says, once you realize it’s a story, you have the power to change it.

    So beautiful! Thank you for the reminder.

    Plus, I think I know that place with the blue shampoo!

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