What happens when the stories we tell ourselves fail us?
This is not a small question. This is a really big one with lots of consequences. We live out of the stories we have told ourselves, or that have been told to us, the ones that shape meaning and beliefs, the ones that form an overarching framework for our lives, how we place ourselves in the world, our reasons for getting out of bed in the morning, for having and raising our children, for the ethics and the priorities by which we live.
What happens when those stories fail us?
I don't believe that stories come first, as so many writers and speakers insist these days. I think they emerge from how humans experience life. They are what humans create to make sense of their experience. Stories come second. The experience comes first - and you can't avoid "experience," raw and real and honest, if you want to create a story that can help us understand who and where and why we are (though the "why" will never be answered or resolved no matter how hard we try, or how much we make myth and story into dogma).
|Genesis: Hubble Space Telescope|
|Once boreal forest. Alberta tar sands industrial site|
What do we do when the old stories fail us, fail to give us an accurate description or view of what's really going on in this world right now? I'm pretty sure the point is not to remove ourselves from the drama, to simply sit down and write a new story. Before we write the story we have to engage the truth of our situation, of our lived experience. We need to look reality square in the face, open the blinders wide, or, better, remove them altogether. We have to stop trying to remove the splinter when the beam that blinds us has blocked our view.
Do humans have the capacity for this? It requires entering into the terrifying existential unknown, to strip ourselves at least for a while of all the constructs we humans have made that led us to this moment when we are facing real ecological catastrophe, to do that so that we can look at them quietly, searingly, honestly, without prejudice, and try to figure out what went wrong.
And so, I try to peer into 2018 from the vantage point of 2017.
I mean, 2017 had a story, didn't it? From the point of view of our planetary crisis, that story was fairly dramatic, with big tragic scenes, plenty of destruction, human emotion, disruption of social life. If we were looking for signs of the times, well, yes, 2017.
Harvey, Irma, Maria - mega-hurricanes with enormous and widespread damage. And while the culture has mostly moved on, a lot of people are still suffering, especially our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico. Hurricanes, record rainstorms elsewhere, major flooding in this country and many others. For some people it was an exceedingly wet year.
In other places, it was another exceedingly dry year.
|Thomas Fire - Source: KTLA|
Six feet of snow in Erie PA, several feet in other bull's eyes for Lake Effect Snow. Why these record snowfalls this year? Because the Great Lakes are warming. Here in Milwaukee on Dec. 4 it was 64, just before Christmas near 50. Then came the cold. Then came the bitter cold. Warm water means more evaporation means more humidity, and when the cold air arrives, that lake effect machine gets going, feeding off those warm waters. On my side of the lake, a dry dusting from time to time. On the other side? Snowmegeddon!
Extremes of weather. Climate change. Exactly as predicted. Here's another story. The melting of the Arctic Ocean waters is now considered to be irreversible. Get ready for even bigger changes, greater extremes, more dramatic weather events.
Video of Arctic sea ice loss - NOAA
There's a story for you from 2017! Here's one that accompanies it - our political institutions and government agencies are now in the hands of climate change deniers (or liars, more like it) and leaders of fossil fuel industries. This is the part of the narrative when everything looks pretty bleak.
So let's peer into 2018 from that vantage point. We have a political year in front of us, and this one may be the most tumultuous yet. Expect that very little of the heart of this story, the central drama, will get a lot of attention. I mean, if firestorms and mega-hurricanes destroying major urban areas don't do it, what will? What will make us see, finally, the real protagonist of this story - US, we humans, we consumer humans, we technological humans, so alienated from Nature now that we are unable to FEEL our predicament. We are too attached to technology, cultural noise, status, ambition, acquisition, and comfort that we appear to have lost our ability to know when we are in biological/ecological trouble.
The view from here into 2018 is not encouraging, except that...
We don't write or tell a story and then change. We live, and then we write stories about living. But those stories are only truthful, prophetic, visionary, profound, if how we live is in sync with the truth of our predicament. If we start with the fires and hurricanes, with the humans living through these events, if we pay attention to the "signs" instead of trying to provide false comfort with the stories we tell, then our stories can really help us.