A Summer Story

Today I am struck by the pathological need we have for stories. Maybe it’s just at our house, but a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry tells me it’s pretty universal.
It’s summer, and the last one before my eldest munchkin flies the coop, in whatever way he chooses to do so after graduation next year. He’s particularly keen to fill this summer with all the fun he possibly can, sure as he is that this is the end of an era, and from now on he’ll be working for the man, unable to have anywhere near this amount of fun ever again, so long as he lives. (I have not disabused him of this notion, at least not significantly.)
What he chooses to spend his time on, primarily, is stories. He plays video games with storylines (and his sister and dad play many of the same ones, so they often talk on our dog walks, for instance, about how far they are in whatever game, and who they’ve met and where their character is going).
He plays the fantasy game “Dungeons and Dragons,” as well as the more sci-fi “Mutants and Masterminds.” We play board games, most of which have a story element to them. This summer has been dominated by “Betrayal at House on the Hill,” which offers multiple narratives, so the story is different each time.
And he reads. Some of the books he reads come from his games—like WarHammer 40K or Dungeons and Dragons, but lots of them don’t.
We don’t watch much television; in fact, I’ve watched more than anyone else, and I’m the one who loves to hate tv. But then I don’t play video games. When I do watch tv, I’m looking for interesting, well-developed characters, some I can identify with, and something new and funky that I can learn about, either from the setting or the character development. My last two ‘fixes’ have been set in Australia and the Carribbean, for instance, places I’ve never been.
The point is, when given a break, we have all in our various ways, stuffed our hours full of narratives. We have chosen stories over lots of other options for our summer. Some of the options have been taken off the menu this summer due to health and family issues, so maybe this is therapy. Yeah. That makes sense.
When we have down time–when we need down time–we fill our days and our minds with stories. And they seem to be all we need.  Both kids have commented on what a relaxing summer it’s been, despite the deaths of two family members and a mom in the hospital in the last few months.
They’re not wrong. The ability to escape to another world, whether we’re an active participant, as in a video game, or dragged along (swept away?) by a novelist or screenwriter, lets us come back to our own world refreshed.  Either we’ve seen how problems can be solved, or we’ve actively helped solve them. Either way, stories make us stronger, smarter. Better.

Viva summer.


Beginning Bibliotherapy

Confession:  Last week was horrible.
I don’t really have the energy to blog.  But I thought maybe I could share some books that cheer me up.  You know, a top ten list of my Bibliotherapy favorites?  Here’s what I’ve got.
1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  Kids’ books count, y’all, and this one is an absolute delight. Part allegory, part quest, part punster’s dream, this book never fails to make me laugh.  I found it as an adult, actually, reading it to my kids.  But now I recommend it to everyone I can. Like you!  Enjoy.
2. Julio Cortázar’s Blow-Up and Other Stories.  Even though some of these have a dark edge to them, many of them are so surreal that I find myself able to dissociate their tragedy from mine, which is a step to looking more clinically at my own problems and sorting them out.  I particularly recommend “Axolotl,” “The Night Face-Up,” and “Letter to a Young Lady from Paris.”  You won’t regret it.
3. Fairy Tales.  Most will do, but here I’ll recommend a lovely collection of Baba Yaga tales; nothing makes you feel back on your game like overcoming a witch, over and over again.  Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales translated by Sibelan Forrester.
4. Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.  These are searing, beautifully written letters, that I discovered in college when I needed them most.  I still return to them, and they never fail to soothe.
5. Poetry by John Keats or W.B Yeats.  Not just because their names visually rhyme.  Because their speak of beauty like a friend, and to read them is to feel connected to that transcendence.
Ok.  5, not 10.  But it’s a start.  Spenser only wrote half of the Faerie Queene too.
But what would you add?  Do you have a book you recommend to make people feel better? Bibliotherapy is becoming a thing, you know, and we need to be ready with our prescriptions.