ChangeNarrativeOptimismStoriesStorytellingWriting

The Times They are A-Changin’

‘All great changes are preceded by chaos.’ – Deepak Chopra
Even as the eternal optimist I have to admit that the times, they are a changin’. I’m interested in storytelling, not just the written word on the page, but as a narrative psychologist, spoken-word stories of everyday lives. 

The key to good storytelling is the listener, as well as the teller. A good listener can elicit a story that has a beginning, middle and end without interruptions an distractions, and within this, identify the tone as well of the theme of the narrative.

The theme is usually clear and identified in the words used and the situated nature of the story, yet the tone is more difficult to identify.

In the past few months I have elicited stories from various people about their lives, and the world they live in, and the underlying tone is anger and desperation. This is often played out in complaints about financial and political issues, but, digging deeper, the grand narrative of stoicism is changing to the chaotic thinking of uncertainty. 

The landscape of people’s lives has changed, and, for many, the safety net is being removed, leaving them with a sense of ‘what next?’ and ‘how will I survive?’ The stories that are now being told on buses and trains throughout the nation are about possible redundancy and impossible university places; but why would this casual banter matter?

The stories everyday people tell during the course of their day is the very fabric of their identity, the fluid river of words that follows over the physiological reality of life. These stories are constructed from and to the world every moment of every day in our internal narrative voices and transferred into the world through daily storytelling via conversations and interaction with media. Literature follows, as we gestate these stories and transfer them gradually to the page. Identities are built around the weft and weave of the social world, where we constantly construct and reconstruct ourselves, and right now identities are in crisis.

In the past, this was reflected in many ways, where personal chaotic identities pushed collective identities to the fore. The miner’s strikes of the ’80 is an example of this, where a country in recession provided uncertain futures for individuals with a divide and rule theme; this flowed forward to provide a collective identity of strikers, and the stoicism of the nation was eventually restored through the negotiation of grand narratives.

The 2000 film ‘Billy Elliot’ picked up this narrative and shaped it into a feel-good story, where, after the event, it was easy to see how chaos led to change. Val McDermid’s Book ‘A Darker Domain’ explores the emotional aspects of the strike situation, as well as the social impact and this examination in literature was published 2008. It’s almost as if we have to wait for a happy ending before we can write the story. 

Because of fluidity of tone, it is difficult to capture the changes in literary form, even retrospectively. This would involve creation of a chaotic personal tone for the narrator, pushing through their interpersonal relationships, and feeding societal change; many books seem to make the situated social world in terms of history and location drive the stories, ignoring the power of tone in personal and collective narratives to drive change, or at least not making them explicit, perhaps because a chaotic underlying narrative does not make for a likable or attractive ‘main character’. But these are not likable or attractive times. When we finally transfer our changing times to the page, will they accurately reflect the true suffering and desperation of people today, or will we flatten the peaks into feel-good troughs? It will be interesting to see if, in years to come, writers capture the chaos before the current change in their stories.