PRINCIPLES OF NARRATIVE DESIGN- A NEW BOOK
The principles of narrative design (POND) that are outlined in our new storywise book https://ourstoriesriseup.com/ describe the mutually re-enforcing cycle of-
2. story to
We have an impactful experience- Our first child speaks for the first time!!!! that sparks us to share a story about it,” Jamie said Da Da on Monday. It was amazing.” As a Dad, we find the experience meaningful. Our boasting helps establish it in the pattern of our memory making, not just because it is coded into our genes or nerves. It is more than that. It is because it is woven into the unfolding story of our lives. That is how we find and preserve meaning and significance. Memory is like language- we have a habit around what we remember and first-times are a gimme. So are last times.
In summary-Experience triggers story and story feeds the memory for easier recall.We do have memories that lack a story but they are hard to communicate. Trauma from a narrative perspective is often described as the experience that has a memory and no story. There is no mediation into meaning through story. The experience was so unfair, so unpredicted, so unprecedented perhaps that it defied meaning or our resources to make meaning. War or rape or torture tends to do that.
When we recall that memory, the process reverses back so that
3.memory gives rise to
2. a story that we tell and in that recall, we and others relive
1 the experience
We think retelling the story recreates the originating experience, but this is the sleight of hand of our trickster minds.
What we sincerely believe is the memory told recaptures that moment, the memory of how I felt when we got married, that moment when our first child was born. It’s a good story. But our minds cannot reverse the time machine to go back- Time is always going forward. The remembering of back then is always for NOW because It only made sense then because it makes sense now too. When memories fall out of making sense now, they fall out of being told. Memory updates with meaning. Some memories lost are revived because now they mean something. it works both ways. Memory recovery is not some magical recall, or repressed memories so much as looking back, we see what it meant in a way that we could not see then, when it happened.
This has enormous implications about the malleability of memory. Every retelling is also a reshaping of that memory through how we re-experience it in the story. This gives us a huge headline. We cannot change our past- No, but we can change how it feels and what it means and more importantly, what it leads to.
It means the experience of joy at our marriage ceremony can give way to a memory of grief if it ended up in messy divorce or tragic death through cancer. The sad memory of failing the torts exam can over time become the happy memory of how I ended up in the U2 band because I never wanted to study law in the first place. For oppressed people, the genocide or the ethnic cleansing that is first remembered as trauma, can over time feed a resistance movement that eventually triumphs. Memory of victimhood is the fuel of victory.
Meaning moves and so memory moves with it. That means we need to map it morethan define it because, like quantum physics, once you define something in the particular, it has already moved on to the next moment. If we track movement, we see a wave and we lose a sense of place. If we track place, we see a particle and we lose all sense of movement.
Our ways or apprehending reality distort it to fit into the purview of our senses. As the latest Hubble telescope tells us, there is so much more than we can see or smell or taste or touch. To be a realist means to bow to the mystery of the universe that remains untamed by our knowledge and mocks at our claims to enlightenment.
Once we know all this as part of epistemology, how we know we know and what we don’t know, we see how ridiculous originalist claims are about being able to know what a revered text written in 1788 or in 2000BC meant in 1788 or 2000BC. All we can know is what they mean now, and what now, we think they meant then.
What did “militia” or “Happiness” or “Freedom” mean when a gun took 5 minutes to load, when there was no standing army, and when happiness had nothing to do with emotions and ‘freedom’ was so boldly proclaimed by slaveowners?
If people are writing in the fluid medium of language, they are not in control of its meaning then or now. The audience determines what a word means, in the end. It defers to usage, not grammar nazis. Dogma coming from church or state are words written on water. Our claims for understanding or even for remembering reflect our hubris.
When we hear someone claim that our relation to this nation is eternally unshakeable- USA and Israel, for instance, that is because we forget when it was very shakeable or non-existent before 1948. Eternity began then I guess.
Or when the church says there never was or never can be women priests, they have to forget or explain away St.Paul’s letters written to heads of churches who were women. The claims we make of memory are eminently forgettable in reverse proportion to the global claims that we make that we will always remember.
The book takes all this into the vital conversation we should be having right now about COVID and recovery but are not. We forgot in 1918-19 when 50 million plus died of Spanish Flu that began in the USA army bases, the Wuhan of back then. Since 2020, over a million Americans have died, and many from the same criminal ignorance that we displayed in 1918. What a waste. Memory is a vital resource for resilience. Let’s learn how to use it.
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