#66 The Secret Ingredient in ALL Stories
A lesson it took me decades to learn.
When I was in high school I was a drama major in an arts program. My first year drama teacher, Mr. Singer, said something that has stayed with me over many additional decades of life. He told our class on one of the first days of introducing a bunch of awkward teenagers to the art of play acting that every story was a love story.
I shook my head “no” immediately. I did not agree. How could that be? As a committed reader of romance novels from an age far too young to even really understand what was going on in in them, I knew that those stories were NOT the types of stories being told everywhere. But at 14 I was too young to understand that there was more to the concept of love than simple, banal romance.
Despite my denial of Mr. Singer’s enthusiastic assertion—I can still remember the inflection of his voice and the way it cracked a little on the end in his nasal way as he said it—I held on to the idea. It left me curious. A small part of me held on to it and said to the world of stories, “prove it.” And so I looked for it in every story I encountered over the ensuing years. Where’s the love? I asked. In stories I wrote myself, I searched for it. For most of the years between my 14-year-old denial of Mr. Singer’s truth and today I didn’t see it. Yet I held onto the idea. Because that same small curious part of me was intrigued by it and wanted to it to be true. Wanted to understand and see that wholly foreign thing in the stories that came to me in life.
Then three years ago I read a book that changed the way I thought about love and helped me see the lesson Mr. Singer tried to impart so long ago. It’s not to say I didn’t try to infuse or see love in the stories I told before then, I just hadn’t internalized it because I didn’t really believe it. Then I had my heart broken (a story for another time) and picked up all about love: New Visions by bell hooks. Every time I read one of her books she changes my perspective and my life in subtle and powerful ways. This time she helped me understand love beyond banal romance and see it in the hard parts as well as the beautiful serene parts of my relationships with friends, family, co-workers, partners, people.
In the book she asks the question “What is love?” and in attempting to answer it opens up the definition and helped me see that it is about connection and commitment and, yes, desire and so much more beyond just romance. She uses a definition of love articulated by the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck in 1978, “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” He added, “We do not have to love. We choose to love.” These words and more blew my mind wide open at the time. And continue to. Love is something we choose in all its forms. That notion of choice imparts a sense of agency in the act of love that I found attractive.
In the idea of want-because-but lies further proof of Mr. Singer’s thesis. That want, that desire, it’s often grounded in some sort of love or care—a choice. Even if your story is about an absence of love, that is a story about love. If your story is about family ties (good or bad), it’s about love in some way. If your story is one about colour and contrast, there’s love there too. If your story is about a business you’ve built or a product you’ve created, love was likely a generative force behind that.
I guess what I’ve come to realize is that love is everywhere in human life so of course it is in the stories we tell. All of them.
While I’m still working to wrap my head around it and what it means overall for us as storytellers, I’ve come to agree with Mr. Singer. Every story is a love story. I think storytelling is an act of love in itself, so of course stories are all about love. Because love isn’t just soft and pretty and romantic, it is a powerful, driving force that holds both grief and joy. Love is far from banal, in fact it helps create interest.
“Every story is a love story.”
What I hope you take away from this is two things, first, to play with the idea of your story being a love story in some way. Second, and maybe more important, to sit with ideas that don’t make sense for you; the ones that you reject immediately and consider them. Be open to them and see where they take you. I read stories differently over the course of my life since Mr. Singer’s pronouncement—I looked for love in them. And even when I didn’t see it or agree or understand, I stayed open to the possibility that he may have been right. I think it contributed to my love of (and if we’re being honest, obsession with) stories. Like bell hooks, I was searching for love and actually finding so much more in the process.
I hope you do the same as you think about and craft your own stories, stay open to love and its place in your life and story.
A Story Well Told
Adele has a new album coming out. And she released the first single, “Easy on Me.” I am a big fan of singer song writers. Huge. Because they are storytellers, related to the original storytellers, griots. If you were to sit down and listen to Adele’s entire discography starting with 2008’s “19” you would see the story of her growth and maturation in song form. I think I might do it in fact. Maybe this weekend. Just to see. I’m going to sit and listen from song one album one and move forward in time with her so my mind is ready to see how she’s grown from “19” to “30” (which is the title of her upcoming album). This woman knows how to tell a tale and paint a picture in our minds of a time, place, and feelings with lyrics and music. I’d encourage you to give one of her songs a listen, even if you’re not a fan and see what story comes to life for you. “Chasing Pavements” is what introduced me to her and made me a lifelong fan, in case you need a recommendation.