I have been playing with the idea of stories for a while. The way we repeat narratives that explain our world. Ok, before you worry my account has been hacked by some radical PoMo rest assured I am not about to charge headlong down a Lyotardian tirade abandoning logic and rationality along the way. No, what I want to do is a little more subtle.
Maybe if I tell a story myself it will help. This summer (I live in a coastal region) I have, yet again, witnessed ‘family holidays’. One particular instances stands out. Whilst waiting for my friend to arrive for a surf (I was early) a middle aged, very cross, woman stomped passed and toward the road, followed somewhat chastely by two teenagers. Her dialogue was along the lines “this was supposed to be a family day”, “you’ve ruined it”, and so on. Now I’m not sure what they had done but past experience tells me in some way it wasn’t ‘family holdayish’.
Almost daily I see either an irate father or mother or moping kids making themselves miserable being dragged around one of our beautiful towns or resorts. Perhaps it’s the challenge of finding not one but two hard-to-come by parking spaces when the reality of ‘we’ll rent a cottage big enough for us and your sister’s family and take two cars,’ that seemed such a good idea on FaceBook three months ago, hits the reality of small seaside town. Or once parked the stress of finding a cafe that can recreate a medium sized work’s Christmas do mid-summer kicks in, with the added quirk of kids who ‘don’t eat food with a vowel in the spelling’.
Why do we do this? Simply we tell ourselves that families have nice holidays: crabbing, surfing, ice-cream and fish and chips, smiles and funny photos – something they can all reminisce about in later life. That’s what families do, and it must be even better if the whole family is there. Kids must want to do these organised activities, dad must want a pint in the evening, mum must want ten minutes to look at some clothes. Kids must miss their friends, dad must want to catch up on the footy, mum must ‘still have to run around after them’. Kids must ‘not be grateful for what they have’, dad must ‘not understand that it’s no holiday for me’ and mum must ‘get left with all the bags’. You see we turn an unrealistically positive narrative into a negative one through yet more stories.
What if we tried to forget about them? What if we didn’t always generalise about behaviour? I know that personally some days I can be very selfish, lazy and shallow. Other days the reverse – so if this is that case my character in this story isn’t very formulaic. I would argue yours is the same. I would argue your friends are the same. This is not to say there are not trends and tendencies, but the interactions are a little more complex than our preferences for bounded rationality allows. I believe that part of the success of the so-called reality shows comes from the one-dimensional characters. Their behaviour is simplistically predictable and we are able to say ‘I knew it’.
What if our stomping mother just enjoyed the beauty of Gwithian and the fine food in the Sandsifter for herself without needing the kids to love it too, what if her kids didn’t tell themselves it was going to be boring and what if dad had said “you get out here and I’ll park the car” allowing a sneaky listen to the footy results on the way back. What if we all lived in unscripted real time?