Verb? Chatting with Zac

Stories are complex; “They are beautiful” (Lugones, 1987).

Recently I was chatting with Zac Chase. During our conversation for #LearningGrounds he asked a few questions. I stammered while I answered some questions, yet others I answered well enough. However, when we were done chatting, I had the feeling that I had sounded like a text book. I don’t like jargon, but sadly I often use it. I prefer clarity. As I write this now, I know I am also not keen on regret. Besides I liked sharing and I liked that Zac had asked about stories. I liked that he had asked about what is important to me. I felt honoured. Next time, I’d like to listen to Zac’s stories.

Zac asked me to elaborate on why I use the word story as a verb: to story and storying. I don’t think I answered his question.

I story. I say and write and do and live storying often.

Interestingly, Zac also paused to wonder about the citations popping up in my posts. There is no separation between the two questions Zac posed.

The first time someone said these words to me or, said them so that I heard them, I was 29 years old. I was standing near a doorframe on the second floor of the university. Though I don’t think I was near a corner, I felt pushed that way. I had been explaining why I needed to separate my personal narratives from my teaching philosophy and practice. I was storying a narrow dominate narrative. Kumashiro helps us understand dominate narratives as oppressive stories and practices, “masked by or couched in concepts that make us think this is the way things ought to be” (2009). I remember feeling the ‘there is no separation’ lighting bolt and being so affronted by the assumption in its meaning. “What gall to imply there is no separating between past, present and future? What gall to imply that all that I have tried to keep hidden is actually visible, connected among us?” There was no one actually speaking then. It was terrifying. It was messy. It was beautiful. It was a retelling. Sean Lessard calls this a teaching. (2011).

To try to add some clarity to the first question, I’ll begin with Zac’s second question. Citations are easy. I adore what I am reading. I enjoy what others are writing. Why wouldn’t I share? I share with the students I live alongside. I share fiction. When Munro wallops me with crude truths so that I interrupt classroom silent reading by tossing a novel across a table and onto the floor, you bet I share. Why wouldn’t I share all literary treasures? There’s another reason too. I am selfish. I want to share the beauty that students and I find in honouring our narratives.

As well, Zac asked me, and perhaps a bit hesitantly and too happily, if I worry that others view this work as lesser work, easier work? Heck, even my own family has been known to refer to narrative inquiry as navel gazing. My mentor/instructor at the university where I am doing my graduate work, a colleague to many instructors who discount NI says she receives at minimum of two emails a week challenging the authenticity of narrative inquiry; my mentor is a tenured doctor at the university specializing in narrative inquiry. Questioning is part of story.

I am deliberate. I need to be.

I’m not so naïve as to assume narrative inquiry fits everyone, nor can it be understood comfortably by everyone. Stories are messy. Yet more difficulty to understand is that storying (openly attending to narrative) is even messier. My grad writing group meets every second Tuesday. One of our common bonds is our research methodology – narrative inquiry – we are storytellers. Last Tuesday after I shared from my work-in-progress, one of the group members leaned over, grabbed my hand, thanked me and said that no matter how much she wants to, she will never be able to share openly. And she is one of the few who invites storying into educational spaces. Storying is “the attitude that carries us through the activity, a playful attitude [that] turns the acidity into play” (Lugones, 1987). 

Storying is boundless and resonates with each telling, retelling and reliving of our narrative. Through our connected storying spaces, place is created. This connected way of living and being is the creative process of storying. This is the beauty of the complexity of stories. (Massumi, 2002).

Stories are beautiful. (Lugones, 1987).

I story because when stories are not honoured my narrative becomes someone else’s way for me to live and be in the world; I become someone else’s agenda. Not easily, but in time, if our narratives are silenced, we begin to tell a story to better match narratives others tell for us. Kumashiro writes, “What students learn depends significantly on the unique lenses they use to make sense of their experiences” (2009). Most of us have these told-for-us stories. The stories when family, community, friends or teachers have tried to or succeed in storying us. Often within school spaces, when students begin to tell, retell, and relive their own narratives they do “not identify” (Lugones, 1987) with dominate narratives. Often, students are “coaxed, seduced” (1987) through dominate practices to tell a dominate story. Students, marginalized by told stories often find a “profound desire to identify with” (1987) these dominate narratives.

The trick here is “to understand a loving way out of it” (1987).

Stories matter.

I need to be deliberate.

A few years ago I began to pay attention to online work. I began to note the work, not the authors, which gained notice. Certainly, but not exclusively, citations set many apart. Sometimes, even with citations, the work felt fantastical. However, folks seem to listen.

I’ve been researching narrative inquiry in my undergrad and graduate work for a long lime. I’ve lived in relational narrative spaces my whole live. I’ve learned to trust listening spaces. So I’ll cite some of my work so that you will be better able to live alongside narrative too, first here and later with student narrative. I can try.

I want this work to matter. I want this work to matter – without me.

The playfulness that gives meaning to our activity includes uncertainty, but in this case the uncertainty is an openness to surprise. This is a particular metaphysical attitude that does not expect the world to be neatly packaged, ruly. Rules may fail to explain what we are doing. We are not self-important, we are not fixed in particular constructions of ourselves, which is part of saying that we are open to self-construction. We may not have rules, and when we do have rules, there are no rules that are to us sacred. We are not worried about competence. We are not wedded to a particular way of doing things. While playful we have not abandoned ourselves to, nor are we stuck in, any particular “world.” We are there creatively. (Lugones, 1987).

Stories are all that we are. (Thomas King, 2003).

So I story. I create. And like Zac, I listen.

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