Exploring the human narrative.

Squished into the corner of my sofa with my laptop, a purring lump curled up at my feet, I search my blank page for inspiration on how to begin this month’s feature on ‘narratives’. The quiet night offers no answers, and feeling a sudden repulsion of the white glow and blinking cursor, I turn my attention to the room. It is untidy. But as I stare at the mess of objects, clarity comes crashing into me.

Two microphones on stands loiter in the middle of the large rug. On the carpet there is a discarded paper plane, a baby doll, a ball and four Rainbow Fairy books pulled from the bookshelves, but never returned. There is one of my red shoes, one purple ugboot, a Twister dial left out from the game and a red screwdriver. Beside me is an empty tea cup, my phone, the latest issue of Womankind and two books – one fiction, the other non-fiction. Individually, each of these items have little significance, but when you layer them piece upon piece, they come together to form a greater picture of the narrative that is my life.

Normally the urge to procrastinate would inspire me enough to get up and pick up the clutter and spend the next fifteen minutes wandering the house and doing the same. But right now, the narrative I have chosen is one of a writer – and the most valuable thing I have learnt is that writers need grit or we’d get nothing done. So, I stay tucked into the corner and resist the urge to flick the screen and scroll through my Facebook feed.

Being in the business of telling stories, I am intrigued by the weave of narratives that make up a person’s life. The way the events unfold in their beginnings, influence their choices and who they decide to become. I am acutely aware that our human brain is wired to think this way. We instinctively portray our own stories, our histories, and our environmental, societal, cultural, racial and global stories with ‘Beginnings’, ‘Middles’ and ‘Ends’ (although not necessarily in this order). These logical sequences are intrinsic to the way we communicate with each other.

Through exposure to fictional characters such as those in the Rainbow Fairy Books and countless other fairy tales and fables, we continue to teach our next generations to think in terms of these narratives – always learning and growing in order to achieve our end goals and ‘happy endings,’. Part of the art of writing these stories is being purposeful with your ideas and arranging them in a narrative that flows like rapids over rocks, and tumbles into you with such impact it takes your breath away. And the essence of these narratives are about experiencing the failures and the successes together.

As adults, we also use stories to connect and communicate in almost every part of our lives. We see it in news, media, advertising and design, business, art, music, poetry and even science. It is an integral part in the way we convey logic and emotion, and connect with others. Modern technology has made story telling more prevalent than it has ever been. We have moved from the one-way media narrative of radio and television to the two-way, interactive version via the internet and social media.

A city's narrative is told through its art

A city’s cultural narrative is told through its art

This personal, interactive story has benefits and pitfalls and as a global society, we are still learning how to use it to our best advantage. On a micro level – our obsession with this technology to convey our personal narratives comes with inherent dangers of selective storytelling and censorship. This narrative is selective about sharing only our successes and omitting the trials and failures until we have overcome them. It censors mistakes, then re-angles them for profit, which is evident in the explosion of webinars that teach thousands about the value of success. Touting success over failure has become a commodity that boosts clout – encouraging people to cheat at life and strive for success without the necessary experience. And the writer in me wonders where these people will be in a few years’ time, after the narratives have changed again.

But on the other hand, the power of social media to share stories globally, gives great opportunities to tell the narratives of people who have previously been isolated by war and poverty. A great example of this is international organisation, Video Volunteers, who go out of their way to give the world’s marginalised and unheard communities a voice and empower them to become players in the global information revolution, “providing disadvantaged communities with story and data gathering skills they need… and teach people to articulate and share their perspective on the issues that matter to them – on a local and a global scale.”

In a narrative sense, they have chosen to share their marginalised stories and explore our global failures in order to spur action into successes. Many artists and creatives also explore similar narratives often on a societal and cultural level. Organisations like Art from the Margins empower disadvantaged people by inviting them to create and exhibit and in this process they raise awareness and start discourses surrounding mental health, homelessness and isolation.

As I sit here now, bathing in the white light from my screen, surrounded by the elements of my own narrative, I am reminded that our lives are like a ‘choose your own adventure novel,” and that every day we have a choice as to the storyline we wish to explore. I can choose filter out the external clutter and noise from the commercial world and seek to share and explore the narratives of local and global communities, to shape my story to reach people and try to make a difference. And I can choose to do it with grit.


Ali x.