Finding pleasant stories is becoming increasingly difficult
Storytime holds an honored and sacred place in the bedtime routine of millions of small children, including ours. Little man prefers reading his own story now, given that he’s reading at a higher level than twenty percent of American adults. Baby girl, however, prefers having me tell her a story. Not read her a story, mind you. Again, she could read stories herself if that’s what she wanted. Instead, she prefers, demands actually, that I tell her a story every night at bedtime. She won’t go to bed quietly without it.
I have to admit that finding a story that’s sufficiently easy to tell within a reasonable time frame every night is difficult. Some nights, her stories are extremely short, especially when her behavior hasn’t exactly been top notch. Other times, I just start off down a path with a character and see where it takes us. She really doesn’t mind as long as I make a couple of funny voices along the way. For her, it’s not just the story, it’s spending the last few minutes of the day with Daddy, something that is important to a six-year-old.
While I can easily enough make up stories to amuse the Tipster, however, finding stories that I can use here is considerably more difficult. I refuse to be yet another post-truth writer who just makes up bullshit without citing any references. I take seriously what we put online even if no one else does. Finding topics that are lighthearted, though, is becoming extremely difficult.
When I’m telling stories to the little one, it is important to keep them light and simple so as to not introduce anything that might become a nightmare. When I look through the headlines every morning, though, nightmares seem inescapable! Is this how our dystopia begins?
The Nightmare of a Factless World
Before I go off on a tangent here, let me request that if you have not read yesterday’s main article on challenging belief systems, please go and do so now. That article is infinitely more important than this one and has more of the qualities of our normal Sunday morning sermon. Please, I beg you, read and share that article before this one.
The stories I encounter on a daily basis come from a variety of sources, most of which are at least moderately journalistic at their foundation. Typically, the most important stories are listed at the top of a page, like a newspaper, with lighter fare and amusements coming further down the page, or at the back of the magazine. If nothing else, there’s always Reuter’s Oddly Enough section which finds those stories that are a little quirky and unusual. Reuter’s is having difficulting finding those stories, too, though.
Perhaps part of the problem here is the assertion by some that “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts,” I’m not kidding. That quote comes from a paid CNN contributor talking with NPR’s Diane Rehm. You can read that totally depressing story in the Washington Post. If there is one thing that we have discovered in the past few months it is that approximately 46% of the US population believes a story based on the emotion it triggers rather than the credibility of its information. What that ultimately means is that everything one sees in print or reads on Twitter is now a fairy tale. Nothing is actually true. Everything is make-believe and one can just add to the story as though we were all participating in a giant work of fan fiction.
Unfortunately, the fairy tale we are creating is one full of nightmare-inciting characters and situations. Our minds can’t believe any of this is true and the more we try to make sense of any of it the more we find ourselves screaming out in terror.
When one of the children has a nightmare, they come running for a comforting hug. We have no one to give us that reassurance, though, because there is no one we can trust and there is no waking from this nightmare. We are stuck.
What Are We Talking About?
Tossing and turning and not sleeping at night seems to be plaguing more of us than usual. At the beginning of this year, I would get up at 4:00 AM and almost feel as though I had the Internet to myself. All my friends and associates on this continent were asleep. My middle son, the Marine, would be finishing up his day in Okinawa and we might chat back and forth a bit, or I might engage in brief conversation with an acquaintance in Europe. The whole setup was nice and quiet, making for a reasonably quiet start to my morning.
Today, however, there were three “live” streams taking place in my Facebook newsfeed. I left a comment on someone’s post and was surprised to receive an almost instant reply. The number of people I see complaining of insomnia has risen from maybe one or two a week to four or five every day. This is all anecdotal, mind you. There’s no science behind my observation so it is entirely possible that the finite size of my study group is producing a false result. Still, there’s no question in my mind that there are more nightmares in our world now than there are lullabies.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian novelist and a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient who has been called “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature” At least, that’s what it says on her Wikipedia page. I don’t know her personally. She also is an occasional contributor to The New Yorker. In her most recent opinion piece for that publication, she writes:
Now is the time to resist the slightest extension in the boundaries of what is right and just. Now is the time to speak up and to wear as a badge of honor the opprobrium of bigots. Now is the time to confront the weak core at the heart of America’s addiction to optimism; it allows too little room for resilience, and too much for fragility. Hazy visions of “healing” and “not becoming the hate we hate” sound dangerously like appeasement. The responsibility to forge unity belongs not to the denigrated but to the denigrators. The premise for empathy has to be equal humanity; it is an injustice to demand that the maligned identify with those who question their humanity.
Something tells me Ms. Adichie is experiencing the nightmares, too. We want them to end. Yet, each morning when the alarm goes off we find that they continue.
We need better stories
The stories I’m reading this morning are only fueling the well-stoked fire of my ongoing nightmare. Generally, I find the words of Stephen Hawking to be somewhat comforting. He tends to have a rather positive outlook toward the future. This morning, however, I’m reading a recent article of his where he says:
… we are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.
A bit later he goes on to write:
… we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.
Dr. Hawking makes a noble attempt at ending the article on a positive “we can do it” kind of note, but this nightmare has stripped me of any faith that humanity can pull its collective head from its pompous and oversized ass. Sure, we can improve our world, but I’m not seeing sufficient desire to actually do so.
Last week (I’m just now getting around to reading it) Ian Buruma declared that we are at the end of the Anglo-American order. He goes to great lengths (translation: it’s a long read) to show just exactly how the US and UK are no longer fit to lead the rest of the world as they have done in the past. He writes:
The self-flattering notion that the Western victors of World War II are special, braver and freer than any other people, that the United States is the greatest nation in the history of man, that Great Britain—the country that stood alone against Hitler—is superior to any European let alone non-European country has not only led to some ill-conceived wars but also helps to paper over the inequalities built into Anglo-American capitalism. The notion of natural superiority, of the sheer luck of being born an American or a Briton, gave a sense of entitlement to people who, in terms of education or prosperity, were stuck in the lower ranks of society.
We’ve lost our grasp on what is real versus what is fantasy. We’ve become so accustomed to making shit up as we go, flying by the seat of our pants so-to-speak, that we think there are no facts because we’re too consumed with the fiction to recognize the reality when it is encountered. We have grabbed hold of the nightmare as though it were an amusement park roller coaster, screaming at the downward spirals and then laughing at ourselves as we prepare to plunge even deeper into the infinity of despair.
I don’t know about you, but I need a break from the nightmare. The stress has become noticeable. Kat has mentioned more than once this past week that I’m snapping at the children, yelling and screaming at the drop of a hat. Granted, I’m a grumpy old man on the best of days, but the stress of this continual nightmare, and the worry that we might never wake up, is removing any sense of pleasantness I might have.
We need better stories. We need stories that are not just fluff but genuinely good news about improvements to the overall human condition. I’m saying that while hoping it’s not too late, that the nightmare hasn’t completely taken over.
We need a break. I fear what happens if this nightmare of a story continues. None of us may be able to sleep ever again.