The stories others remember 

Today for class my professor had us text our friends and family and ask them, “what’s your favorite story about me?” She then had us put away our phones and wait.

After awhile, we were to pick one of the responses and think about why that person remembers that story, and what it says about you. The idea was to deconstruct why we tell each other stories–to see the stories we tell at parties as a (true) mythology of ourselves. This is how we cement our personal identity in a group.

My sister told me her favorite story was the time we were playing hide and seek in my grandmothers house. It was my turn to hide, and the grown ups were telling me ideas on where to go. Now, my grandmother collects dolls. Three-foot-tall, life size dolls that live in the corner of her living room. My sister is counting down, and I decide, hey, I’ll be a doll.

So I posed in the back, smiled, and waited. My sister hunts around the house for a long time–she even makes eye contact with me and keeps looking. She actually thought I was a doll.

I thought for awhile why she remembers this and what it says, both about me and about her. It was funny, sure, and I do love making her laugh. But why does she tell other people this story? What trait of mine does it show, in disguise? 

I realized that this story shows that I don’t shy away from a challenge. Yes, a “safer” hiding spot would have been under the table or in a closet. But I chose to be a doll, the more interesting and difficult path.

This class literally just ended about 10 minutes ago, but I can tell this will be something that sticks in my mind. Why d we tell stories? Funny stories, cool stories? What does it say about us and our relationships? How is it that we bond through storytelling?

Telling stories is, of course, what I plan on spending my life doing. I guess it had never crossed my mind why stories exist in the first place. It had always seemed so obvious, just an integral part of humanity. It is, I think, integral. 

Young intelligence

I am constantly amazed at what children can do. When I was a kid, I always got annoyed when people underestimated me, so I try not to act too surprised at children’s intelligence. Even so, it is certainly easy to assume they don’t know much.

Maybe it’s because sometimes kids do stupid stuff. When a two year old shoves a bean up his nose, it’s hard to remember that he’s pretty smart.

But then again, I do stupid stuff too. Maybe I don’t shove beans up my nose, but I still hit “reply all” or lose the phone that’s in my pocket or accidentally use body wash when I meant to use shampoo. I think that’s why it’s easy to forget that kids are smart: because I’ve lived way longer than they have and I’m still pretty stupid.

Kids are smart, though. I just learned of a boy scout troop consisting of 9 year olds that are building prosthetic hands for kids in Haiti. My five year old cousin is learning to code at preschool, and knows all the ins and outs of Minecraft. I mean, this is stuff that I’d have trouble doing!

Not to mention my two year old cousin who can navigate an iPad and even find his favorite songs, even though he can’t read.

A while ago, I did an article on babies learning sign language. They were hearing babies who were at the age where they wanted to communicate but didn’t yet have the vocal control to do so. They could learn to sign “milk” and “hungry” and “more” to their parents at 5 or 6 months old, far younger than they would be able to say the words aloud. This cut down on frustration and crying for everyone involved.

Kids are so smart. I’d love to have one of my own someday, to help them learn and grow. I have a feeling I’ll be doing far more learning than teaching.

Comforting Moon (Guest Post)

My boyfriend Colin is on a study abroad program in Oaxaca, Mexico. An introvert himself, he wrote this guest post about how being in Mexico gave him the confidence and drive to connect with people he normally wouldn’t have.

If you like this guest post, please leave a comment or email Colin at crugg129@gmail.com. He’s thinking about starting his own blog, so any feedback will be welcome. Enjoy!

Comforting Moon

When you look at the stars you can forget where you are. You can look up past the stars into the darkness, the same midnight blue around the world, and be comforted. That is, until the little differences start to build up, the new constellations or the angle of the moon, and again you feel alone.

In Oaxaca, Mexico, the moon waxes vertically, so that all I can see is an ever-thickening canoe, distinct from the classic DreamWorks chair. The people here eat chapulines (grasshoppers), put ketchup in their beer, and consistently arrive at least a half-hour late for any scheduled meeting. The worst cultural quirk one has to overcome is the infuriating habit people here have, upon being asked for directions, of instructing you on an imaginary pathway when they have never heard of the place you are seeking, all for the purpose of being polite. These are the small differences that weigh on you. Nothing revolutionary, but enough to weigh you down and make you question why you came: culture shock.

How do you overcome it? For me it was the simple act of discussion. When you talk to a Oaxacan beyond the obligatory “tell me about Oaxaca,” they rarely discuss the subtleties of munching on a cricket or the need to throw toilet paper in a trashcan so as to not clog the toilet. These are things that they do, not things that they are, just as Americans are a bit more complex than cheese-whiz, to-go coffee, and a bizarre desire to flaunt red, white, and blue.

When you talk to a Oaxacan, they often cease to be a Oaxacan to become a person. My host mother in the city, Martha, likes to travel and loves to tell stories about her children. My Spanish teacher, Miguel, studied geology for a semester in Oregon, and when his girlfriend at the time broke up with him his roommate helped him to discover Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. When you look past all the little differences, the customs that mean hardly anything, the placement of the stars, you realize that we are all the same. The comfort of a familiar midnight blue is the comfort of a shared humanity.

So then why do we travel? Why did I go far from home, learn a new language, and waste money to talk to people who are deep down the same as people back home in the Northeastern United States? After much thought, it can be put simply: to gain new perspectives. When you have to learn a new language, you not only have to work hard to be understood, but you also have to talk to strangers. People you would never have spoken to otherwise. You have to look for that deep blue sky somewhere under the new words and alien accent, because you’ll never learn French by talking to a Frenchman. Only from a person who speaks French. So now, I, the same boy who never raised his hand in class and murmured awkwardly as classmates introduced themselves to me, have begun to initiate conversations with complete strangers. I can talk about myself, not for myself but to connect with someone else and feel the humanity that they share with me. I can only hope that upon returning to my English-speaking homeland that this new perspective holds. Everyone is more than just their title. A brief connection can help you forget the strange angle of the moon.