Tell Them True Stories; Or, Layne Mentions His Dark Materials For The First Out Of What Will Probably Be A Lot Of Times

3 Jan

“Tell them stories.  They need the truth.  You must tell them true stories, and everything will be well.  Just tell them stories.”

– The Amber Spyglass

The first time I read The Amber Spyglass and got to the above excerpt, I thought, how cool would it be if telling true stories had so much power, that everything would be well.

This is one of the truest stories I’ve ever read.  I first came across it several months ago and think about it almost daily – which makes sense to me, given that almost every day I am interacting with at least one or two people I love, even if in the most mundane ways (though even thinking about those mundane interactions still rings glow and glory to me because they are with people I love).

It didn’t change how I think about love so much as clarified what it means for me to love.  I feel like this story defines love leagues better than any abstract explanation I’ve heard; I can understand it deeply, a definition that transcends denotative statement.  I can mentally cycle through friends/family/old flames/etc., asking about each, “Do I love them?”, and if the emotional weight of that story seems to be a true representation of my feelings about and concern for that given person, then I have a good idea, or at least a better idea than I did before.  In my opinion, this story has helped me tell truer stories to myself about people in my life, where they stand, what they mean to me.  True stories beget true stories?

Over the past year or so, I feel like I’ve had to shed a lot of things that were causing me to not be honest, not tell true stories about who I was or what I thought about the self-aware existence of human beings.  I was trying to please a lot of people I love, trying to avoid disappointing them and so forced myself into a state of near-constant stress and cognitive dissonance.  None of it was easy, and it’s still not easy, but much harder would be holding on to warped views of human suffering, existence, and what qualifies as truth to maintain status quo.

Now, because I am thinking and speaking honestly, I feel I’m in a place where being taught how to tell true stories for others to hear/read is not an automatic waste of mine or someone else’s time.  Were I still afraid to be honest with myself about my most basic beliefs, to some extent it would be futile – if I can’t tell true stories to myself about who I am and what I think about the most fundamental questions human beings ask, how could I tell true stories about anything else to anyone else?  I’m not sure it’d be possible.

More and more I’m realizing just how much it matters whether stories we tell are true, that they do have so much power.  What we say about how certain diseases are spread and prevented, who our ancestors killed or enslaved or were killed or enslaved by, or gods that allow most humans who have ever lived to experience the worst possible suffering indefinitely absolutely affects tangible, day-to-day experience.  I think what the Catholic Church says about condoms is killing people in areas where HIV/AIDS is rampant, and I think people who are telling stories of children used as bullet shields in the Philippines are not only saving lives, but calling those who hear to a higher level of awareness and compassion for some of the most extreme human suffering present on this planet.

Our stories matter so much, and I think we have a responsibility to make sure, as much as we can, that they are true – whether, per given case, that means objective truth, emotional truth, or both (since I’ve mentioned both here without prior differentiation; my bad).  We probably can’t make everything well, but I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want to try anyway.


8 Responses to “Tell Them True Stories; Or, Layne Mentions His Dark Materials For The First Out Of What Will Probably Be A Lot Of Times”

  1. elysiasmith January 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    Layne: This was a really good post.
    Talking about truth is such a strange thing, because I think it can be a highly relative term…but then again, somethings will be true no matter what (IE the sky is blue on a clear summer day= truth)…
    As far a storytelling, I agree with you whole heartedly. you must be explicating a relative/relevant truth in order to thoroughly encapusulate the potential you have as a writer.
    (mostly, i’m saying, i miss you a lot and all the chickz)

    • Layne Ransom January 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

      Emotional truth I think is hangin’ out in relative territory all the time, and that’s cool. Truth becomes as faceted as the people experiencing it. I love when I talk about a story with someone and we’re both picking up some of the same emotional truths, yet knowing the whole time those truths will likely shape each of us in different if comparable ways.

      I think it’s important to differentiate between the fact that while our ability to perceive objective truths is limited and/or flawed, that doesn’t change that objective truths exist (as you said with the sky example), even truths that are hard to come by. I get irritated when those two facts are irresponsibly blended to a point where people say things like, “You can’t absolutely prove I’m wrong so nah nah nah” when confronted with tangible evidence against a viewpoint they hold. In many cases, no, not absolutely, but we can determine which viewpoint is less likely to be wrong/more likely to be correct via evidence. It’s just reasoned thought, which should be a redundant phrase but unfortunately the word “thinking” is often used to mean “making decisions about objective truth primarily using subjective experience.”

  2. thenerdynegress January 3, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    I had to keep sucking in the “Christman Teat”, but I can’t help but think of a moment in class when she told us that we are responsible for “telling our own truths”. We are the only ones who have lived our lives from our perspectives, and that perspective matters.

    Your truth is valuable and necessary.

    • Layne Ransom January 3, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

      “I had to keep sucking in the ‘Christman Teat'”

      I’m guessing you meant “hate,” but either way this is one of my favorite things.

    • Layne Ransom January 3, 2011 at 10:41 pm #

      But as an actual response, I second that and say those perspectives are the emotional or subjective truths about which objective statements can be made. I don’t think objective truths cancel out those perspectives, even if there is conflict: i.e., someone telling a story about what it means to them that their spouse is faithful, when in fact they don’t know that they’re being cuckolded. There’s nothing illegitimate about the emotional experience; it doesn’t make that person’s perspective or emotional experience “less true.” It’s their perspective. But, regardless, they’re still wrong about the fact that their spouse is faithful.

  3. elysiasmith January 4, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    We should talk about this in person. I can’t comprehend it via words that are written right now…or maybe I’m just drained. But yes, please let’s chat about it.

  4. Willie Lendor January 10, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Can I just say what a relief to find someone who already knows what they’re talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it credible. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

    • Layne Ransom January 10, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

      those words are like, really kind; thanks

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