Tuesday, 10 August 2010

What's The Story?

I love a good story, a tale that slowly unwraps like a gift, infused with history, romance, fantasy and texture. I enjoy becoming intoxicated with other worlds, characters and their experiences. Isn't it the same for everyone? Aren't we all curious little creatures?

But isn't it important to remember that we are constantly telling our own story? Whether it be delivered by words that trip from our lips, or the twinkle that dances in an old dog's eye, our stories are magically entwined. You only have to take a look at a social networking site to see that we're reaching out to our past, by contacting old friends, reaching out to our present, and reaching out to strangers on the other side of the globe, connecting to unknown futures. We feed on new connections, they help us to communicate and grow, but they are merely the "literal" connections, what about the subtle stories we connect with via touch?

I believe each object we touch carries it's own story, it has been created and it has travelled, it had an existence before it was in our hands. I once bought myself a silver thumb ring from a little stall at Reading Festival. It sat happily on my thumb for several years, seeing countless bands, several homes, Prague and Oslo, and then one day I lost it. It wasn't until I got home from work one night that I realised, it must have accidently slipped into the bin with a paper towel after I had absent mindedly dried my hands. I looked the next day but the bin had been emptied, disappointed I accepted that it was gone.

Two months later my colleague brought a ring to me and asked "Is this yours?" There was my ring, he'd found it by the fire escape, now it hadn't sat there for two months so I guessed at the story. Maybe the cleaner had seen it, and thought it a waste to throw it away, so had started to wear it, and then she too had lost it. It was nice to think that my ring had developed it's own thread of the story, and had then returned to me. I like to think that I now share a story with that cleaner. Since then, the ring, along with a second thumb ring accomplice has disappeared again, I still have hope that they will come back to me, and then I will share a story with someone else.

I guess what I am trying to illustrate is that there could be volumes of stories in our hands, but how often do we ask 'What's the Story?"

I began thinking about the stories of the items we possess after reading an article on the Guardian.co.uk from an Observer investigation (article). It discussed the accuracy of Fairtrade garments supplied for high street retailers, and how things are potentially not all we are led to believe. Opinions on the subject of Fairtrade aside, I began to wonder what stories I might really be connected to. As I sit here writing, I look at the vest top I am wearing, the label says that it was made in Mauritius.

I am connected to someone in Mauritius. I wonder who it was that made this top, what was their name? Were they happy? Were they paid adequately? If not, was that my fault? By purchasing the top I proved that there was a demand for it ... so many questions. I am hit with a sense of responsibility, and a strange pang of guilt. Who am I to have these profound thoughts, and 'oh so noble' considerations for others while I sit here writing, when these are the exact thoughts that exit my head as soon as I am dashing into a hot, sweaty changing room, cursing for the umpteenth time about a pair of jeans that refuse to fit. It's so easy to become disconnected.

We are surrounded by millions of stories, some we hear, some we see and others we let our fingertips brush past. We try things on, then throw them off, and some we purchase. How often do we stop paying attention to ourselves, and actually pay attention to them?

I would like to start pausing, taking a moment to think about the stories presented before me. I don't want to buy Fairtrade because I am told it is ethical, and that therefore it is the 'right thing to do'; that isn't enough for me. It isn't enough just to be told 'this will make you a better person' and then to blindly do it, surely it's worthless if I don't pause and wonder who that real person is, with real hopes and fears, that I'm connected to? If you don't think about the tributaries of the stories you are creating, they could dry up, and then the idea of Fairtrade - for example - may as well be a work of fiction.

I want to be connected to that person in Mauritius, I also want to be connected to those closer to home. Coming from an art and design background, I am aware of the abundance of artisans like myself trying to make a living in the UK, selling various arts and crafts. Each handcrafted item tells it's own special tale and what's more, I can connect with the creator directly, so I actually get to hear and share their story, which is no less interesting or important because it is on home turf.

I want to buy organic local produce, so I can appreciate the story of someone who brings something to life from seed and helps it to grow, it is certainly not a story I am likely to be able to tell from my own experience judging by my lack of talent for any kind of horticulture. It is important to me to make a conscious effort to have some things, not everything, but some things where I know the whole story.

I think I fear that within our fast paced, busy lifestyles, those tributaries will dry up, because we all want things now, or yesterday. We get caught up with ourselves, become insular, and start to lose the subtle art of storytelling. We stop telling stories, we stop listening to stories, we stop inventing stories.

What sort of world would we live in if there were no stories? Would it lack colour? Would it lack compassion? What would that world be like if no one even cared?


  1. I think if no one cared the world would be a very dull place indeed. I've been musing over similar sorts of questions recently, more to do with cultures and the way we absorb and adapt them to suit ourselves. is that misappropriation or a need to connect with something we perceive as rich and interesting? Is it the dreadful western thing of taking things (like clothing) and making them fit us rather than respecting their origins. I think if we all thought more about the 'roots' of items whether homegrown or from afar we'd make different and more well informed choices.

  2. Lovely post - I always try to buy handmade goods because I love the thought that someone has sat and put so much love and care and attention into one little piece - mass production just isn't the same.

    I always buy second hand too - especially second hand books / jewelry- and like to imagine the other people who have read /worn them :)

    Its important to be connected to people - I hope that our busy lives don't take that away from us.