Sunday, August 12, 2012

Go to the ant, you sluggard!

From when I went to Marrakesh, a city of storytellers
I went to a storytelling workshop once and the tutor said that everyone had one story that they most identify with, that chimes with how they live their life or what they are. They said that if you search hard enough in your life, 'your story' will become clear to you.

People have written books about this and it's a lovely idea, probably related to encourage everyone to seek out more stories than they ordinarily would. Our brain is wired to work and learn in metaphors and all stories you come across feed directly into this stream of knowledge and pattern matching.

My fellow storytelling workshop attendees got really got excited about this idea, all sorts of stories were immediately brought forth, fantasy novels, fables, children's books, adult fiction, traditional tales, jokes, nursery rhymes, the little engine that could - I didn't have anything to add but I thought about it a lot after that day.

My childhood was full to the brim of books and stories, influencing my every childhood thought and action. It's actually cringe-worthy when I think back of how I lived my life like a character in a book. I wrote my diary in the style of Anne Frank, I took nature notes on boring British hedgerow wildlife like Gerald Durrell in My Family and Other Animals, I tried to live like Just William and I genuinely though I had a daemon like Lyra from Northern Lights. I could have given Scheherazade a run for her money.

Another gratuitous Morocco photo.. isn't it incredible though?
I'm not complaining but I do mostly feel like I'm on a capitalist treadmill that I can't get off until I feel like I've got 'enough' money or assets. Due to not having a full time job anymore and working freelance when I'm not at my part time job, I never feel like I've done enough to provide my share of money for new family. Of course this urge will never be satisfied and is even more sad because I'm very aware that this self inflicted guilt is due almost entirely to the culture we were all brought up in. With this in mind, I do have a story that chimes with me at the moment but it's very banal and obvious, and definitely only because of this life stage I'm in that eveyone must go through (unless they are extremely financially fortunate): young, relatively broke, having rashly started a family...

The story is of course, The Ant and the Grasshopper, one of Aesop's more smug fables. A grasshopper skips and plays music in the summer sunshine whilst the ants work tirelessly to gather food for the colder months, also finding time to make snide comments to the grasshopper. When winter comes, starving of hunger, the grasshopper asks the ants for some of their food and is verbally shot down for his idleness and left to die. The depressing moral is stated: 'To work today is to eat tomorrow', and the growing sense of guilt that one is dithering over Aesop's fables instead of finding new ways to make money to feed your family comes crashing down. Even the Hebrew bible's Book of Proverbs gets in on the ant worshiping action by insulting the reader: "Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest".

I did just read though about how in Greek mythology (the good old Greeks), it was actually the ant who was the bad guy in a kind of counter-fable. "It relates that the ant was once a man who was always busy farming. Not satisfied with the results of his own labour, he plundered his neighbours' crops at night. This angered the king of the gods, who turned him into what is now an ant. Yet even though the man had changed his shape, he did not change his habits and still goes around the fields gathering the fruits of other people's labour, storing them up for himself. The moral of the fable is that it is easier to change in appearance than to change one's moral nature." Well I'm all for that, and I'm always trying to work on my 'moral nature'.

Perfect for children as their meaning is so blindingly obvious, Aesop's fables are a stream of patronising morality in the Pantheon of traditional stories. If you prefer your stories a little more funny, subtle and bewildering, you could do worse than get a copy of Mulla Nasrudin stories, of which this one is my favourite:
A man is walking home late one night when he sees an anxious Mulla Nasrudin down on all fours, crawling on his hands and knees on the road, searching frantically under a street light for something on the ground.

“Mulla, what have you lost ?” the passer-by asks.

“I am searching for the key to my house,” Nasrudin says worriedly.

"I'll help you look," the man says and joins Mulla Nasrudin in the search.

Soon both men are down on their knees under the streetlight, looking for the lost key.
After some time, the man asks Nasrudin, “Tell me Mulla, do you remember where exactly did you drop the key ?”

Nasrudin waves his arm back toward the darkness and says, “Over there, in my house. I lost the key inside my house…”

Shocked and exasperated, the passer-by jumps up and shouts at Mulla Nasrudin, “Then why are you searching for the key out here in the street ?”

“Because there is more light here than inside my house,” Mulla Nasrudin answers nonchalantly.
Maybe that one is my story.

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