Avery Boulware, Campus Carrier Editor-in-Chief
“That you are here – that life exists and identity, that the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse,” Walt Whitman wrote one time.
When I first read this, essentially an answer to the question of the meaning of life, I was skeptical. Of course Walt Whitman can say this about himself. He is, quite literally, contributing verse to this powerful play of a life. He had a long, white beard and wore billowing linen pants; he is obviously on an entirely separate plane of existence than the rest of us.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that phrase, “the powerful play.” It’s such an interesting way to look at life. In my Theories of Communication class, we learned about Walter Fisher’s narrative theory, which identifies “narrative as the master metaphor of human experience.” In other words, we use stories to make sense of the world around us. We create stories for ourselves as well as those around us. A communication scholar named Alasdair MacIntyre once wrote that “man is essentially a storytelling animal,” which sums it up beautifully. We are all actors in our own plays and supporting roles in each other’s stories.
We are constantly creating these narratives, too. It’s almost constant and mostly subconscious. Think about it: you probably create 20 stories in your mind per day. Your professor is late to class, so you start to think about where he could be.
Did his car break down? Is he now walking along Martha Berry Highway, trying to bum a ride? Does he get picked up by a crazy ax murderer on his way to his day job at Wells Fargo? We make up stories without even realizing it, most of the time.
This can be dangerous when we start doing things like romanticizing people or places. We make up stories in our heads about how great it will be to be in a relationship or have this fancy new job, but reality is much different than our ill-informed narrative.
Another potential downfall of perpetual storytelling is mixing it with anxiety. This is essentially the opposite of romanticizing: we start with one inconvenient truth and craft it into a horrifying narrative about how the world is going to implode on itself if we miss a few answers on a test.
Neither of these routes should negate from the beauty of storytelling, though. MacIntyre argues that this is what makes us different than any other animal. We don’t make sense of the world through animalistic instincts but through creation.
This should be encouraging for those of us that do not feel as creative as those around us. Creation comes in so many different forms, as does artistic ability. Even though you may not be able to paint a portrait or shred on the guitar, you are a creative being simply because you exist.
This is a call to notice the storyteller in you. It truly makes life more fun. Be more aware of the stories you are already creating and celebrate them. Create new ones. As “storytelling animals,” it seems to be the one of the best ways to make sense of life.