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We are story tellers.
(Pedagogy) Philosophy and Nonsense      
Thoughts about writing, education, and experience                                  Presented by Forrest D. Poston

The first goal of teaching is to strengthen, deepen and refine our intrinsic love of learning. All other goals and all methods must stem from that idea. Any that do not support that goal must at least be questioned and adjusted, if not eliminated. Otherwise, we are not teaching but training.

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Not all truth is history; not all history is truth.

Writing and Education

Autobiography Challenge

Considering Conclusions

Considering Introductions

Four Meanings of Life

Godot and the Great Pumpkin

A Major is More Minor Than
You Think

The Poetry Process (A look at 4 versions of a poem.)

Thoughts About Picking a Major

Quick Points About Education

Quick Points About Writing

Reading Poetry and Cloud Watching

Revising Revision

Reviving Experience

Reviving Symbolism

Using an Audience

Videos

What Makes a Story True?

What's the Subject of This Class? (Being revised.)

Why Write?

Writing and Einstein (The Difference Between Information and Meaning)

Writing and the Goldilocks Dilemma

Links to Other Sites
What Makes a Story True?

All too often, when I ask a student about reading fiction, the reply is "what, you mean something somebody just made up?" Even though we require courses in literature, we've managed to devalue story and storytelling. Meanwhile, I love asking the title question in class because I can always rely on someone to say that a true story is one that actually happened. History is true and truth is history. Then we can assume that the evening news last night, tonight, any night, is true? Surely they told us what happened. Of course, they didn't tell everything. They made choices of what to cut, leave, add. They made choices about which words to use, which pictures. Let's assume that they really tried to be objective. Attitudes and beliefs still affect the choices, from the reporter to the head of the network, and if you repeat the story to someone else the next day the choices will be altered. You'll tell part, leave part out, alter the words. The differences between "Ralph allegedly shot Rick," or "Ralph shot Rick," or Ralph murdered Rick" are huge.

On the other hand, let's consider pictures that go along with news. Surely a photograph (at least one that hasn't been doctored) tells the truth. Ever seen a photograph taken of someone talking? What looked perfectly fine in action almost always becomes a characiture when frozen. Look at that open mouth, wide eyes, finger pointing to the sky. What was fine suddenly looks fit for the cover of a supermarket tabloid.

In some respects, there is no such thing as history because we are incapable of knowing all the elements of any given story. The complications of why, and the relationships between elements can extend almost infinitely through both space and time (knowing one moment of history in its essence really requires knowing all the elements that led up to it and all the ripples that come from it). Also, we are subjective creatures. Try as we may to be objective, we perceive the world through our senses and through the various lenses of past experience. I don't know who first said it, but one of the key sayings about history is that history is written by the winners.

However, I happen to believe that stories such as The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars are true. In one sense, they are true because they've never happened, but they are also true because they always happen. Single events in history don't tell us much, but patterns reveal what we need, and when you create pattern from events you have story. In many ways, The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars (and I'm using the movie versions here) are the same story. They both tell us that we need to follow our own path, that along that path we will meet the companions we need and who need us, that each member on the journey will discover what they need, that even the right path has challenges and trials that can be difficult, disturbing, and dangerous. They also suggest that the universe has ways to kick us onto the journey when we're being uncooperative. And when the key moment arrives, the last step must be ours. Since George Lucas was strongly influenced by Joseph Campbell, it's not surprising that the initial Star Wars film (even more than the others) plays out the hero's journey described in Campbell's work, but The Wizard of Oz predates that work by several decades. You'll also find that pattern tucked underneath the action of many stories, not because the author put it there. The act of telling an honest story reweaves the basic patterns over and over because those patterns are what we need to understand, the metaphoric and mythic elements that help us create our identity and our sense of how the universe works and what the relationships are between microcosm and macrocosm.

Somewhat oddly perhaps, the importance of history ties back into story. The other crucial saying about history is that if we don't learn from history, we are condemned to repeat its mistakes (and I'll have to go searching for one of the sources for that saying). Sitting in most history classes, it's difficult to understand how we can really learn anything from the names, dates, and locations that form the heart of too many classes in almost every field. A brick may be important, but even the keystone is only important as it exists in relationship to the other elements. Memorizing any number of individual bricks won't build a house, help it stand, or help you understand the significance of that structure. It's the relationships between the bricks of the house or the events of history that create pattern and meaning. Of course, the pattern can only be seen when you have enough of the individual pieces, but when the emphasis is put on the relationships you no longer have to memorize each piece. Recognizing the pattern helps you see where the piece must fit or where there must be a piece yet undiscovered.

We've come almost full circle now. History (what actually happened) is a true story when it becomes a series of relationships from which we can discover, create, refine, and apply meaning to our lives. History is true when we can apply the physical to the metaphorical. Fiction (novels, poetry, film, fairy tales, and more) are true when they contain relationships and metaphors that also helps us develop meaning. Fiction is true when we can apply the metaphoric to the physical. I don't want to discount history any more than I want to let people continue to discount fiction. When we restrict experience to something we call literal and exclude metaphor, we eliminate pattern and meaning, we restrict the ability of individuals to build the sense of meaning that allows us to be ourselves and part of society simultaneously and in a symbiotic relationship.




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Other Essays and Poetry

Something Somewhat Vaguely Like a Resume

Being Like Children

The Blessing and the Blues

The Cat With a Bucket List

David and the Revelation

The Dawn, the Dark, and the Horse I Didn't Ride In On (an odd, meandering, semi-romantic story)

Ghost Dancer in the Twilight Zone

The Hair Connection and the Nature of Choices

The Mug, the Magic, and the Mistake

Trumpet Player, USDA Approved

Videos

Poetry

Selected Poems

The Poetry Process

Writing by Current or Former Students

Ms. Write Meets Her Match in Jr. Ms. Write Now
by Heide Perry

I'll Just Have Cats
by Cara Hummel

Toys to Toys
by Allyson Bowlds

Scribbles and Bits

Links to Other Sites