Sunday, August 5, 2012

Where Is The Hero Of The Story?

Tina Turner--"We Don't Need Another Hero" (mp3)

Wherein I try to tell a story, without telling the story...
It is human nature, I suppose, to want to be the hero of your own story.  I'm sure it happens for many of us all the time in small ways--solving some logistical problem, killing two birds with one stone, going above and beyond in some daily family way, blah, blah, blah. 

I'm not so sure it's easy to pull off in big ways.  My family, for example, has adopted the phrase, "the big hero" from a friend of mine, and we use it when when one of us goes out of his or her way to make something happen that benefits others.  Something like picking up a pizza and showing up at home when everyone else is starving and getting to say, "Who's the big hero now?"

But in big ways, we just don't have that many opportunities to shine.  I suppose I could call myself a hero for scaring two intruders out of my house a couple of years ago, but the fact is that I was yelling in total fear, and the fact that because of my scream they ran instead of killing me or at least hurting me is evidence of their own ineptness or amateurness, not my bravery.  Even when I got to the top the stairs and stood between them and my family locked in a bedroom, I had nothing, and had they come, I could have done nothing to stop them.  Some hero.

But the real problem comes when there are many narrators to a story, and each one wants to be the hero.  That is what I am grappling with tonight.

It would be fine to try to write a novel or a story where that is going on, where each successive narrator comes to the plate and ends up getting the game-winning hit in the same game.  It would be a fascinating study in unreliability and would leave the reader wondering which of the many versions is the right one.  Of course, this has been done before, this idea of multiple versions of the same events, but I think it ups the ante when each narrator wants to win the reader over to his or her particular success.  I'm not aware that has been written.  That's really pushing it.

Back to the problem, though.  The problem comes when it's real life, not a story, and I am not reading it, I'm listening to one version and then my wife hears another and my child hears something tangential from a friend of hers who works at a place downtown, and all of us could get together and try to figure it out.  But we don't.  At least not initially.

Because when the narrators, the heroes of the stories, are real people, we all have our own human tendency, which is to take sides.  Because I'm comfortable with the version I've heard, and my wife has her own source with whom she shares the same certainty, and my daughter's friend knows enough to sway a little one way or another, but not enough to nail it, we none of us know quite what to think, or else we sit in our own certainty, equal certain that each of the rest of us are wrong.

Such is life in a small city where everyone knows something of everything. 

I know you want particulars.  I know it is my job as a writer to provide them.  But not always.  And this time I'm not giving them.  But I promise you, it doesn't matter.  This is as old as the Old Testament, where Adam and Eve's stories don't match up, where Cain and Abel's don't (granted, Abel doesn't get a speaking part), where Jacob and Esau's don't.  This is adulthood.  This is the longer you know someone, the more you have doubt, rather than certainty.  And when it is someones, not someone, you take a jaundiced view towards all of it.

As my daughter and I discussed on the way to Costco today:

HER:  Isn't there a saying like, 'The truth lies somewhere in the middle?'
ME:  Yes, something like that.  There certainly aren't any heroes in this story.

Suffice it to say that what we're talking about here is not really "heroism," it's the moral high ground, which everyone wants to claim, every storyteller.  I guess that is its own kind of heroism.  Each storyteller wants to convince us that they are right, are proactive, are reasonable, are saviors. But ultimately, as happened today, when a several people hear several versions of the same set of circumstances, they don't end up choosing sides.  Instead, when they do compare notes, they conclude that, looking at it from the outside, all of the participants have deep flaws, which is unfortunate because all of the attempts to set the record straight have done little besides making the record seem childish.

I apologize.  I know that this is very obtuse.  But sometimes that's either all you know or all you can say, especially when it's either a family matter, people you know, or litigation my wife is working on.  I'm comfortable, though, believing that all of you have been in this same situation, listening to a story where there are no heroes, despite all urging to the contrary.


troutking said...

"a story where there are no heroes, despite all urging to the contrary." Congress?

rodle said...

This post reminded me of all of those Discipline Committee meetings we shared back in the day. Who is accurate? and How accurate are they? are two great unanswerable questions.