How Has Story Impacted You?

 

Story empowers. Changes. Matters. Affects.

Whether we read a story book or hear a friend’s tale or see a movie, we experience it as if we live it. Our brain lights up in the same areas as if we had been the character ourselves. Fascinating! The result: we grow and change and spark others on to the same as we share our own (or ones that have become our own) stories.

Birth stories teach us about the miracle of life and birth. Who can help but shed a tear at the moment the mother sees her newborn’s face in Call the Midwife on Netflix? These stories give us the strength to push through our own birth adventure or admire those women who have done so.

Coming-of-age stories show us how difficult it is to grow up and discover who we are created to be but also allow us to experience the joy of it. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee teaches me that surface differences only hide our similarities and that judgment hurts others.

Love stories give us hope that there is someone for us, someone who understands us and accepts us for who we are. My favorite love story shows that no matter what I’ve done, there is someone who knows me better than I know myself and who still loves me. That love story is found in the New Testament.

Adventures allow a safer way to feel the thrill of events for those of us who might not put skydiving or war or swimming with dolphins on our bucket list but secretly would like to try (or know about) certain thrills. I loved experiencing what life is like in North Korea by reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Happy to not have to experience what the protagonist did while discovering the pain and reward of an ultimate sacrifice.

Mysteries, crime, science fiction, historical and more have their own flavors, and since we all are different, provide us with stories that appeal to our own tastes. One example I just read is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a story set in WWII about the tragedy of war but also a story of how kindness can prevail even in awful circumstances.

Even contemporary fiction has a wide range to give us a glimpse into different cultures than we are in. Socioeconomic, gender, race, and religion differences–to name a few–blur in the pages of story. Right now, I’m reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. The protagonist is a self-educated French concierge who is befriended (and maybe more than that) by a wealthy Japanese man. Here I’m learning to embrace who I am and not adhere to who society thinks I should be.

Family stories told around the dinner table or at family gatherings tell us how those who have gone before us are still with us to teach us. My great grandmother immigrated with a friend from Finland at age sixteen in 1897, not knowing another soul and never seeing her family again, because she wanted to go to America where she would lie under a “raisin tree to eat raisins whenever she wanted.” Her name was Sunna and her story taught me to follow my dreams.

How have the stories you’ve read, heard, and seen impacted who you are today? I’d love to hear how.

 

 

 

What Gift?

 

rosebouquetcloseup

Five hundred words?

Makes me hum that old song, “Five Hundred Miles,” when I read my first line, which in the song is a long way to go. But five hundred words in a blog post is not many.

As long as you have something to say.

I don’t like to buy gifts out of obligation. Just because it’s someone’s birthday or a shower for a friend’s daughter or yet another anniversary. I feel the gift needs to be useful to the receiver.

Otherwise, it’s a waste of time for both the giver and recipient. And I guess I have been feeling a similar duty about my blogging or rather lack of blogging. Like an overdue letter to a friend.

But most fiction writers struggle to come up with things to say in what is a nonfiction format. For a fiction writer to write primarily nonfiction feels contradictory or at least inconsistent with what they do.

Writing is a gift, both for the one writing as they explore what they are passionate about and for the reader who makes her own discoveries through those words.

I want my gift to have value for my reader. Like the stories I write. A character like the reader who wants something but runs into difficulties in attaining it. And sometimes finding what they want isn’t what they get. Or need.

I want my words–five hundred or even less-than-three-hundred, like today– to be useful, beneficial, encouraging. I want my letter, my gift, to you to make you glad you went to the mailbox.

Why do you read a blog?

 

 

Book Review

The Orphan Master's Son
The Orphan Master’s Son

The Orphan Master’s Son, set in North Korea, by Adam Johnson is a literary tale about identity and story. The setting, plot, and characters captivate on their own level to bring us a story we can relate to.

Identity

Most of the major characters are unnamed or given a pseudonym. The main character never knows his real name and, in the first part of the book, chooses his own from a list of martyrs. He picks Pak Jun Do and goes by Jun Do (John Doe).

Sun Moon is the actress whose picture Jun Do gets tattooed onto his chest so he wouldn’t be mistaken for a spy, but that is not her real name. It is given to her by the dictator Kim Il Sung who discovers her. Her children have names but never tell them because “[n]ames come and go. Names change. . . A name isn’t a person. . . It’s you that matter, not your names.”

In the second part of the book, Pak Jun Do takes on the identity of another man, Commander Ga, whom he may or may not have killed in self defense. He moves from being the one  “steered by others” who is “trying to escape from their paths” to “a man who steps on the gas” when he puts on Commander Ga’s uniform, rides in his car, and moves into the house Ga had shared with the nation’s movie actress, Sun Moon.

Story

Story is the thread that stitches Jun Do’s narrative together. He is told early in the book that it doesn’t matter who you are in North Korea, all that matters is your story.

When Jun Do names the orphans (and himself), his choice is based on the martyr’s stories. With his kidnapper job, he hears a story (opera), and his spy job enables him to listen to the stories on the short-wave radio, his favorite part of his job.

Whenever a situation occurs that could prove dangerous, Jun Do and his fellow workers make up elaborate stories to share with the government agents who question them. The final part of the book is about an interrogator whose job is writing down people’s stories before erasing their memories with a special machine.  

Madeleine L’Engle in her book Walking On Water states “to write a story is an act of Naming.” Jun Do starts out not knowing his real name, and, by the ending, he is back at that same place.

The government, in trying to extract his story from him, is unable to learn his identity. This powerful government which rules the lives of all its citizens is impotent.

 At the end of The Orphan Master’s Son, Jun Do approaches his lack of name as a changed man.

He embraces this reality because he has written his own story of who he is.

Now he is his story. And he is named.