Yesterday, while my 19-year-old fried beef for dinner yesterday, I kept handing her vegetables to chop — onions and garlic I just pulled, some leek thinnings, a few leaves of kale.
She chopped and stirred and talked. She gives me the story of her life, daily. Tempestuous and brave and loyal by nature, her life is chock-full. When I was that age, I drove an old VW bug I bought for $200 with waitressing cash. A boyfriend taught me to adjust the valves. I was shy, so terribly shy. When I tell my younger daughter just how shy I was, she doesn’t believe me. Last summer, a woman hollered out her car window at me for jaywalking in downtown Hardwick, I walked over to her, and — while she was marooned in construction traffic — I offered her an earful about driving too fast and why I jaywalk. Understandably, my daughter was mortified. Good lord, woman of that car, if you ever read this, I apologize.
Stories change. All our stories change, through grief and sadness, but through wonderfully fantastic things, too. I see my tall, lovely young-woman daughter pondering this — where do I want to steer my life? Interspersed with vegetable washing, I’m glad to be the listener, offering an occasional Socratic, What do you think you should do?
Anyone who listens to Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugars podcast might want to check out Almond’s new book, Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to our Country?
I’ve placed my faith in stories because I believe them to be the basic unit of human consciousness. The stories we tell, and the ones we absorb, are what allow us to pluck meaning from the rush of experience. Only through patient interrogation of these stories can we begin to understand where we are and how we got here.