Saturday, September 11, 2021

Tell Us About It

For the moment, let’s forget
The highbrow and professional,
The fable and the ritual
Story to reflect on how story
Functions in ordinary
Conversations. It begins

With two kinds of audience,
Two kinds of demands, which select
For two kinds of stories,
Two types of storytellers.

If the audience is others,
They want to be entertained.
You may want to entertain them.

If the audience is yourself,
Even though you want others
To listen, want to compel them
To pay attention, you’ll tell them
Something less entertaining,
Something meant to placate yourself.

Conversational tales evolve
In bifurcating directions.

Most commonly, they’re complaints
Or self-serving explanations,
And the most essential types
Aren’t hero quests or love triangles,
But how-I-have-been-hard-done-by
And what-you-should-learn-from-me.
You won’t find those in fiction guides.

Rarer, but still nothing like the sacred
Myths, magical adventures, or enduring
Tragicomedies, are conversational
Entertainments. These are for others,
So when they’re told and retold,
The tellers are attending to responses,
What gets a laugh, what satisfies.
They evolve to be sleek as sharks,
Smooth anecdotes to dine out on—

The more implausibly comical
Or marvelous, the better. Sometimes,
It-just-goes-to-show-you or similar,
Raconteur tales.

The two types can’t be well told
At one and the same time. You want
To air your grievances, give up
On being charming. A few
Conversationalists, exceptionally
Manipulative, can switch-hit quickly.
They’re usually after sex or money.

There’s only one tale exists in all
Traditions, conversational,
Mythical, professional, ritual—
The meet-cute, down-by-gardens,
Drawing-water-at-the-well, whatever.

Now tell us what stories are truly for,
Why your minds are carved
At the joints by them,
Bearing in mind imitation
Is always something less
Than successful reproduction.

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