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GET REAL: Creating stories


GET REAL: Creating stories

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THIS PAST WEEK two historical films about Barbados were released here. The films Barrow and Panama Dreams are notable developments in the maturing of this nation. Part of maturing is being able to speak for yourself and tell your own story, from your own perspective. The film world has the image of vanity and glamour attached to it. But these two films represent vanity of the most important kind. Your image of yourself shapes how you see everything else.

It’s all a matter of perspective. From my perspective it is, as is written in Ecclesiastes 1, “all vanity; a striving after wind.” Everything will decay and vanish leaving only, if you are lucky, imperfect memories and a story. The vanity of the story is probably the most enduring of vanities. The proactive telling, retelling and refurbishing of your story should be a regular chore for an adult or a nation. It is the story you’ve embraced that gives you your perspective. 

A story, no matter how accurate, is not the event it recalls. It is not the truth. It is a stand-in and therefore a vanity. It too, will only last so long. The author of Ecclesiastes goes on: “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance, of later things yet to be among those who come after.” This is probably true. Eventually, even the best stories will be forgotten. However, the author told his story anyway. 

Ecclesiastes was written long before the printing press and the internet. Stories were a lot more difficult to keep alive then. Back then, you had to have an army of priests and scribes committing verses to memory and copying them by hand onto papyrus. You had to keep them hidden in secret chambers where the work was sealed from marauding conquerors. Conquerors often want to kill people’s stories more than they want to kill people. People are useful as pawns, slaves, serfs, workers and consumers. A people with their own story are harder to dominate and manipulate. He who controls his own narrative, has power.

Apart from being a unique package of flesh and bone, a person is a unique story. We are a series of memories and rationalisations about those memories, arranged to create a story, which becomes our identity. Over time, the story changes. Some memories fade, some become clearer or are reframed. We rationalise differently as we try to make sense of the past. This is part of maturing. Identities are not meant to be conserved. They are to evolve.

Holding a singular form of story sacred is high vanity. You can be so vainly in love with your story that you hold onto it, like a treasure. We become attached to a vain identity which is a story we have developed about ourselves, sometimes even when it does not serve us. Creating stories may be no more avoidable than avoiding the vanity of food and water. The human brain creates stories automatically, the same as the heart beats. The best we may be able to do is try to make sure the stories we digest are as healthy as possible and that the story is flexible and adaptable.

Charles Darwin argued that it is the species which most readily adapts to a changing environment that prevents extinction. For members of a storytelling species, this means that your story has to adapt too. New information and new understanding mean the old story needs to be updated. The story you shape, in turn shapes you. 

The filmmakers behind Barrow and Panama Dreams are the scribes giving us stories to live and learn by; to help to shape our mirror image. This is much more achievable than it was for us in the days of the Panama canal and in Errol Barrow’s time. If Barrow were to return and ask again: “What kind of mirror image do you have of yourself?” We should have a much clearer, more well-defined and well thought out answer. In fact, we should have several answers. This is a call for more Barbadian filmmakers to rise to the occasion.

Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email: [email protected]