This post isn’t going to be as light-hearted as usual. It’s still going to be hopeful, however. I hope that in all my posts, hope for the future shines through. Happiness and hope are inextricably linked. And so are stories. I’ve been to a couple of very interesting writers’ meetings recently, where stories real and imagined have been shared. Sometimes the truths in people’s pasts are stranger and more fascinating than the fiction we share with each other.
The more I learn about people, the more I realise that there are stories all around us, even when we’re not conscious of them. Sometimes the pursuit of a make believe story can distract me from the real stories going on around me. Sometimes I’m reminded with a bump. I’ve recently discovered that one of my writing comrades lost a leg in a motorbike crash (he illustrated this by taking it off and placing it on the restaurant table) and ended up counselling his psychoanalyst in subsequent therapy; that another’s father was one of Winston Churchill’s bodyguards during the war; and another’s grandfather was part of the platoon sent to clean up Bergen-Belsen when the war was over.
I ended up sharing that my grandfather on my dad’s side, who was in the merchant navy, had seven ships sunk under him. How I wish wish wish he was still here, so I could record his story. My grandparents on my mum’s side emigrated from China when the communists took over. They had 8 children – their eldest was left behind and adopted in China (that’s another story). My mother was the seventh child, born after they’d settled in Malaysia, once they’d hiked through the jungle from Thailand, the eldest son nearly dying from a snake bite en route. The family had stowed away in the hold of a ship in order to escape China and make it to a safe place. It’s a happy story.
One friend from the group is developing writing courses to help people cope with trauma. She mentioned how people have ‘cover stories’ – they can tell you what happened to them, but they’ve come up with almost a soundbite for it so that the telling of it doesn’t bring back the hurt and harm. To help work through it, you have to slow it down – bring out the details and face them. I’ve done the same when explaining sad things that have happened – skimming over talking about a bereavement so as not to feel it again. My granddad’s told the soundbite of the ‘seven ships’ – but I only know the cover story – not the details. When my friend’s granddaughter asked what it was like, cleaning up Birkenau, all her grandfather said (/could say?) was, ‘horrible.’
And then, today, I saw this Ted talk on everyday sexism from a girl I went to university with, Laura Bates. She’s talking about and encouraging people to share the stories that no one wants to tell and no one wants to hear.
And that links to one of the aims of a charitable organisation I’ve become involved in – Haven Trust (website under development). It has been founded by a lady who escaped a situation of domestic abuse with her children. She was forced to leave with nothing. She’s acquired the management rights to a hotel in Queenstown NZ and is planning to open a centre for victims of domestic violence. She then aims to open 5 more across New Zealand. She started the trust to provide a stepping stone for other families in her position, making it possible to leave when it seems impossible, providing shelter and employment opportunities to help people start over. What she and her children went though is horrific. But horribly commonplace. A purpose of the trust is to help people coming through record and share their stories with the world. Stories that might never else come to light, because of the prison of silence that allows this kind of abuse to go unnoticed and unpunished.
I do believe real life is stranger than fiction and sometimes unbelievable in it’s weirdness. Just as everyone has a story, I like different kinds of stories at different times in my life. Thanks for sharing this one.
Thanks Tam, sometimes it’s hard to believe people’s stories! It’s mad what some people have been through…
Ah, thank you for writing this. I sometimes wonder if it is worth it to tell some of my darker stories, particularly those I am holding back until the theoretical future. But we really have to, don’t we? I suppose the entire world is built on storytelling.
I hope you will write more about your family’s background, by the way. It sounds absolutely fascinating. Everyone definitely has a story.
Aw thanks Aussa!! It’s definitely worth telling the darker stories along with the lighter.. They say you can only truly appreciate the light when you’ve experienced the shadow.. And there’s so much to be learned through sharing of stories, good and bad!
Watch this space!!! Another grandparenty post coming v soon 🙂
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I think I struggle a lot with trying to make my stories funny and appealing. Even when they are about awful things. I’m not ready to just tell the serious and sad ones that don’t have a humorous side. But I do believe everyone has cover stories.
I think you have to be ready to share the sad stories… and sometimes you just need to keep them hidden for yourself – I know there’s some I’ll never tell, or that will only ever reach people’s ears in their cover story form.
ps just read your last post. I don’t have anything that awful to talk about. When it comes to the things you’ve been through, it’s just really brave that you share at all xxx
Abuse is more common than most people think. When someone trusts you, they will open up and tell you. Sometimes I think it is everywhere.
I hear more and more stories now… It sickens and saddens me…