Friday, October 12, 2007

Quest for Integrity

Friday 10-12-07

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”--Joan Didion

I love this quote. While it certainly qualifies as a quote about writing, it speaks to much more. Everyone everywhere needs stories. We spin them in our minds, we daydream our way through monotonous activities, we conjure them up to provide a happy ending when life seems bleak.

We need stories just as we need heroes. Even more, we need to be the Hero of our own Story.

This urge drives us on. Sometimes with positive results. Sometimes not. If the need to be the “good guy”, the good daughter, the good wife, the good friend, means compromising your integrity or living an untruth, not so much.

What’s fabulous about stories, both writing and reading (or watching) is how the character’s words and actions are not limited to our own personal inhibitions. In fact, our favorites can speak volumes about the qualities we wish to embrace. Characters who reflect those qualities are especially close to our heart.

Here’s something I noticed… We like integrity. Now, what I mean by that is not Honesty, Honor, or Ethics. Obviously, in our daily existence, those three are pretty darn important. *smile* But let’s look at integrity. Integrity means being true to yourself.

In our stories, we want our heroes and our villains to be True To Themselves. If that integrity is compromised, we pull out of the story. Not deliberately, but suddenly something doesn’t click. Whatever the character does has to make sense because we as the reader or viewer demand that the character have integrity.

The challenge, in both stories and real life, is to weave in the need for evolution and transformation. That, too, is an integral part of life. Another way to look at is to see it as consistency. A few weeks back, hubby and I watched a movie that made us want to scream. Not only was it riddled with clichés, there was no consistency. The “heroine” (and I use that term derisively) was supposed to be a top-notch reporter yet had the brains of cottage cheese. The “villain” who apparently was harboring a secret obsession had a shrine behind a closet door, yet left his computer running with a voice-over (her voice, naturally) so when she used the key (Tucked Over the Doorjamb! In New York City!!) to enter his apartment, she followed the sound to discover his Secret! *Gasp!*

*tears out hair*

We watched the whole thing, not believing our own stupidity because, let’s face it, the movie was consistently ludicrous from start to finish. D’oh!

What draws us to a story?

The hero’s quest for integrity. Usually our heroine/hero is not being true to her/his self. Because of this, there is an emptiness or a knot that needs to be untangled, although they rarely realize or acknowledge this. Throw in some unexpectedly challenging circumstances or an encounter with a person who pushes those buttons and you have the beginnings of a plot.

Why is this basic structure eternally appealing? Because it reflects life. We all are on a quest to discover our Self. To know ourselves. And we do encounter circumstances and people who challenge us to face the inconsistencies in our life.

We all want to be the hero of our own story. Within the pages of a book, or the scenes of a movie, we learn how other heroines discover their own True Self.

Have stories helped you to discover your own true self?

For me, the quest is about courage and embracing truth over illusion. As I said, in childhood I devoured the Oz stories. Dorothy stood up for what she believed, she challenged others to be true their own selves. I don’t need the heroine to be a “kick-ass heroine” (very popular these days) from the beginning. I do need to see an awakening of her spirit though. I love how Bridget Jones went from lusting after Incorrigible Rogue to falling in love with the Flawed But Sincere Suitor. She eventually chooses the guy who likes her “just the way she is.” Awwww!!

Stories help me too because the escape allows me to breathe. I learn, I laugh, I cry, I breathe…

A dear, dear friend sent me an email asking, “Have you hugged your story today?”

Truth is, this life we lead is our story. Have you hugged Your story today?

--Chiron O'Keefe

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