“Tell Klaus a story, Klaus.”

Posted: October 13, 2010 in Conceptualizing the Ordinary, Storytelling

So I’ve got 45 minutes before I need to run off to my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class. I wonder if I can make this a blogpost by then. For your notice and just appreciation: some of my earlier posts took me about 8 hours to write. With an average readership of 25, this makes 20 minutes of my time for each of you. I think that this is a very high ratio for a writer.

Anyway, time’s running, here goes my idea. Each of my posts is about two or, sometimes three to five, or maybe seven ideas – and most of them should be developed in a book rather than a blogpost. But I find it boring to write a book, while I find it fun to write a blogpost. This post exceptionally only consists of one idea, which, like most of my ideas, is based on a distinction:

Things we’ve lived have two ways to exist for us:

1. in experience mode

2. in story mode

These two modes follow each other and are never synchronously active.

While they are still in mode 1, the experiences are active, i.e. they can be modified by new events, we are emotionally affected by thinking of them. When they move to mode 2, they are closed. For many theorists of narration, one of the defining qualities of stories is their “closure”. They are “round”, not open-ended. An open-ended story is not fully a story (which is why we coined a specific term for it).

When you can say “Oh yes, I went to Mexico once, when I was still with my mexican girlfriend. You know, the engineer I told you about” and you don’t smell the Enchiladas, don’t hear the cats screaming that woke you up at night, don’t long to touch her skin any more, and if your ego doesn’t hurt any more because she left you at Christmas, then you know you’re done. The episode you lived, the experience has turned into a story.

You can even talk about the cats, the caguamas, the lonely Christmas you spent waiting for her to call you, and it still doesn’t hurt. All this is just part of a story. Something that happened, for sure. But that might just as well be fiction. It just happens to have happened to you, and you know more details about it than if it hadn’t happened to you, but it could could also have happened to someone else.

In experience mode, things are different. It’s essential that it’s your experience. Any thought or evokation of the time, the person or even smelling something or hearing cats scream will bring you right back to the experience. You are then still part of the events, it’s still happening in you. The story isn’t written.

In some cases, if we don’t understand some of the elements of our experience, we won’t be able to move into story mode. As long as we don’t know why she really left us at Christmas, as long as it just doesn’t make sense that she left us, we can’t move into story mode. We are like those lost souls that need justice, before they can rest in peace. We are still in experience mode – and we’ll try to get the answers we want.

It’s only when we have the answers, when the ending is written, that the story exists. I think that in many cases where people suffer because of something they’ve experienced, it’s because they can’t make sense of it. Because they don’t understand why this or that happened to them. Stories make sense, experiences simply are.

I think that we developed the capacity to tell ourselves stories about ourselves and what we lived, because it’s the only way to not get lost. With too many things in experience mode, we are heavily affected by all sorts of things, everything brings us back to that thing we lived and continue to live within. The fact that we can make it a story and thus close it, allows us to remember without being paralyzed by our memories.

In some cases, we run the risk of being pulled back into experience mode: for example because we see the girl again, after 8 years. If we are lucky, we still have some choices:

1.open up the story again and move back into experience mode

2. write a sequal

3. write a post scriptum

4. pretend nothing happened

I’m sure my list isn’t complete (nothing that isn’t based on logics is).

But, well, what would you choose?

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