This is the third time I am writing a post about my paper doll series, so I have to find a new angle. It is stories. This particular story begins like this:
When I finished these four small quilts last week they needed to be named. At first I thought to title them Paper Dolls but my good friend Catherine Knox pointed out that this was too obvious. And she was right. The figures in the quilts are modelled on the paper dolls of childhood, but there was a bit more going on in the background as I designed and sewed them. So I thought and thought and after quite a few false starts came up with the title of Storylines. And it felt just right.
I am not going to even try to tell you what was going on in my head as I was making these quilts. Hopefully you will imagine your own story.
Much has been said about the magic and the importance of stories. Books and learned dissertations have been written about the topic. My mentor Don Maclennan, a professor who was also a poet, philosopher and friend, often reminded me of R.D. Laing’s assertion that “we are the stories we tell ourselves of who we are”. This cryptic statement holds a lot of water. We humans use stories – fictions – to cope with the chaos of reality and change. But I promised not to give you a long story!
And this is where this post should end. But I am going to ramble on a bit about my fascination with stories. If I think “book” I see a very tattered copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that I owned as child. Then I think of how my own children would not let me miss one night of reading them a bedtime story. I also think of how comforting bookshelves filled with books are (even if many of them are waiting to be read).
A few days ago I came across a passage in My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, which sums up the gap between reality and fiction; between life and stories:
She said … “It’s not my job to make readers know what’s a narrative voice and not the private view of the author,” and that alone made me glad I had come [to the author’s writing workshop]. The librarian seemed unable to understand. “What do you mean?” he kept saying, and she only repeated what she had said before. He said, “What is your job as a writer of fiction?” And she said that her job as a writer of fiction was to report on the human condition, to tell us who we are and what we think and what we do. (p. 97-98).
In his book, Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari claims that the human imagination and our ability to create stories is the reason Homo sapiens rules the world. This is a simplified summary of his argument, which he makes convincingly and entertainingly. For example, he writes:
We can weave common myths such as the biblical creation story, the Dreamtime myths of Aboriginal Australians, and the nationalist myths of modern states. Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers… That’s why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftover and chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories (p. 27-28)
It is chilling to think how much power the human race has over the fate of the planet. That aside, without stories to warm us, life would be bleak indeed.