Tuesday, January 11, 2022


Enough about hearths and collective wisdom,
Enough about modeling scenarios
With the power of imagination. Enough.

Stories have other, lowly, selfish functions
As well, possibly primarily, although
What those functions really are, it’s hard to tell.

The mother had a pair of cherished earrings.
The daughter borrowed them without permission,
And when the mother confronted the daughter,

The daughter returned the earrings by flinging
Them at the mother, which damaged the earrings.
That’s a summary of the mother’s version.

In the daughter’s version, the earrings were cheap,
And she never knew the mother to wear them,
But the mother just lost it when she wore them.

Both versions have been retold, with flourishes,
Many times for the benefit of partners,
Friends, and family, most of whom have now heard

Both versions more than once but never at once.
No one wants to hear either story again.
If you’re human, you’ve told some stories like those.

Why? To what useful, perhaps adaptive end?
Or take the case of the teenager who lied
That his wallet had been lifted in Times Square

After he’d spent the cash his father gave him
For something serious on frivolous things.
Here, the function appears transparent. Told well,

The story enables the lying young man
To avoid punishment, although he has to lose
The wallet supposedly pickpocketed.

But notice how, within a few days, the gap
Between narrative lie and narrative truth,
Or at least narrative history, has closed.

The father accepts the story. No one knows,
Except the teenager, any other truth,
And anyway, before long, no one remembers

The incident at all, except the liar
Who can’t remember any of the details
Of what he spent the money on, or should have.

Story, clearly, has instrumental value
For manipulating social relations,
But it can stick on endless, futile repeat

Or vanish swiftly into the waves, without
Regard to veracity or homily.
In what lies the health of this ecosystem?

All these microstories scurry, surface, sink,
A thousand invented for every one told
To entertain or pass along. The true stories.

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