Category Archives: storytelling

The Public Storyteller

Michael Stock co-hosts the Public Storyteller with Caren Neile

Michael Stock co-hosts  the Public Storyteller 

I look back over these posts, and I cannot for the life of me find a single mention of the project that started all of this four years ago next month: The Public Storyteller radio segment on Michael Stock’s Folk and Acoustic Music show, which has been airing on WLRN public radio for 30 years.

It was Michael Stock’s deep understanding of folk culture that led him to create with me a storytelling segment that would showcase the non-professional (usually) storytellers in our community who, through their anecdotes about life in South Florida, connect with their neighbors and help their neighbors connect with the region.

For me, this kind of thing is what public radio is all about. Why would commercial radio care about folk culture? It doesn’t sell CDs or downloads. It doesn’t even sell soap, which as we know, was the original raison d’etre for radio and television. It doesn’t even sell concert tickets.

What Michael knows is that without folk culture—the music, stories, dances, games, material objects, etc. that distinguish one culture from another and our species from other species—our lives would be subsumed by commerce even more than they are today.  If a product didn’t “sell,” it wouldn’t exist. Here’s another plug for the Internet: it’s allowing folk culture to flourish, at least for those of us with computer and Internet access.

I have been thinking about The Public Storyteller segment a lot lately. For one thing, it’s early October, and already we are booked up with storytellers eager to contribute until nearly the end of the year—a first. Maybe I’m doing my job as producer better, but I really think it’s just an idea whose time has finally come. Perhaps it’s because we’re about to record our anniversary show—who’d a thunk it would last four years? Or perhaps I’m thinking about the segment so much lately because a university press has agreed to take a look at the manuscript I am preparing celebrating the project that celebrates the stories of our neighbors. Whoever ultimately publishes it, I must be sure to clarify that while having a book is fabulous, these stories belong first and foremost in an oral medium. They rely so much on the voice and the energy of the storytellers who were generous enough to contribute a slice of their lives. The archives for the segment are at

I can’t express often enough my gratitude and pride in being able to help make this program come alive, week after week. I certainly couldn’t do it without my co-host, engineer and godbrother.  Thanks, Michael!


The Greatest Stories Ever Told

photoSince writing a regular column for the Sun-Sentinel Jewish Journal, I’ve started looking at stories in a new way. Lately, I have been thinking of them more in terms of what they do for those for whom religion matters.

To backtrack a moment: Literature professors look at stories for their internal meanings; interpretation, for them, is an act of decoding (to borrow a term from semiotics) to discover hidden meanings that may, incidentally, be unknown even to the writers themselves. Communication scholars, on the other hand, examine stories for their external meanings. What do stories do in the world? What do they do for their tellers and their listeners? How are they used to achieve a conscious or unconscious goal?

Here’s an example: I once brought in to my university the remarkable First Nation storyteller Dovie Thomason. In the course of her performance, she mentioned that traditionally, Native children don’t get punished when they misbehave. Instead, they are told stories about the infraction they committed. So if, say, Dovie played with matches in the house, she would hear a story about the dangers of playing with fire. That would be an example of how a communication class would look at stories. We are not examining them on the micro level of language so much as on the macro level of family and society.

Back to religion. Why is the Bible chock full of stories? What do the stories do for those who read it?

The simple answer is: This is history and law, and we have to learn it. Period.

For many people, that’s enough. As a seminary graduate, however, this doesn’t do it for me. We learned that the Torah (the word refers to the Old Testament) was written by a number of human beings, with different perspectives and different agendas. So in effect, we studied it from the point of view of a religion class, a literature class and a communication class. The “literature” part was to study the motivation of Moses and Jonah, the incomparable poetry of the writing, the way that stories unfolded. The “communication” aspect was to discuss why certain authors contributed certain stories from certain perspectives. (Some had political motives; some more religious motives; at least one was supposedly female, which might give her another motivation altogether.)

So as a Seminary graduate and a communication instructor, I am looking at the Bible lately and saying, “Wow. They knew that stories teach us, engage us and help us remember better than any other form of instruction.” That is to say, whether or not the Bible is a true history of events is not for me to discuss, at least not here. In making this particular point, it is irrelevant. What matters is the ingenious way that the author(s) of the Bible—whether human or Divine—put forth their messages.

I often say that infotainment, such a dirty word in elite media, is actually the best way to learn. Why does something have to taste bad to be good for you? Why can’t we enjoy our learning? The masters of the oral tradition, long before writing was developed, knew that the way to keep people interested in math, science or moral education was to entertain and educate at the same time: to tell them a good story.

You may have noticed that I left out how we studied the Bible from a religious standpoint at the Seminary—not the Bible as literature, not the Bible as communication, but the Bible as spiritual guide. From my perspective, all these years later, I would say that the spiritual part of my training encompassed both literature and communication. We learned that the Torah, whether or not it was a work of history, was, most importantly, a great work of metaphor, of symbol. Thus the ancient sages could argue forever about its meaning, about how we are meant to live. What does Abraham’s binding of Isaac (the story known as the “Akedah”) mean for us today? What does it tell us about relating not only to God, but also to our parents, children, animals, servants and social responsibilities?

From a communication standpoint, we also learned that the Bible is an important tool for teaching us how to be better citizens of the world. Thus one interpretation of the story of human beings’ appearance on the sixth and final day of creation was to tell us we are stewards of the earth.

Most importantly for me, the Bible reminds us of the overwhelming power of storytelling.

When Stories Create Us

dalailama I am reading a wonderful book called Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-narratology, by Arthur Frank. It reminds me a bit of another counterintuitive book I read about a decade ago, The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, in that it questions our dominant narrative of being in control of our own actions. That’s so important to us in the modern world, isn’t it? I think many of us would agree that being free to make our own choices, whether it’s what to have for dinner, where to live or whom, and whether, to marry, is worth fighting for, if not dying for.

The authors of these books might at first be amused to have them compared, because one, Frank, is a narratologist writing about storytelling, while the others, Dawkins, is a biogist writing about genes. However in both cases the fascinating point is made that while we think we are in charge, actually we have limited self-determination. Frank argues we literally embody the stories we are told by our families, our schools, our houses of worship, our governments, the media, etc. Almost like automatons, we are “programmed” to live out certain scripts. Sometimes we may rebel against those scripts, but even our rebellion is choreographed. In other words, how do we know how to behave at all? How do we know what to like, dislike, value, scorn? By virtue of the stories with which we come into contact. (A simplification of the gene argument, which is less interesting to me, for obvious reasons, is that the goal of our genes is to survive, and so they induce us to do all kinds of things to stay fertile and multiply.)

Now without going so far as to echo Martin Luther’s argument against free will, I will quickly state another side of this argument, which I am, again, oversimplifying. Education, travel, talking to a variety of people and reading a variety of material, critical thinking—all these elements can at the very lest help us determine the best course of action for ourselves. Of course, even that will be a script. It is, in other words, probably impossible to live a way, or think a way, that has absolutely no precedent. What’s more, it’s exhausting. I read once, for example, that the brain is designed to NOT have to think. In other words, thinking expends a lot of energy, which is always assumed by the body to be at a premium, Big Macs notwithstanding. So our brains are geared to develop shortcuts, to rely on old patterns (neuronal pathways) that we can travel and retravel and retravel again. It’s a whole lot easier to walk the same way to the bus stop, or drive the same way to work, or get ready for bed in the same order, than to have to rethink and reorder it every day.

What does this line of argument mean for us on a daily basis? First, it’s just interesting; at least I find it so. Second, it tells us that stories are more important than we ever thought. They actually do things and make us do things for them, in part to keep them alive. And third—maybe we don’t have to feel quite so bad about our poor decisions and actions.

On the other hand, maybe we can’t feel so proud when we succeed.








On Being a Jewish Storyteller

shalomyall A funny, wonderful, astonishing, helpful thing happened to me this summer: I became a full-fledged Jewish storyteller. Now don’t get me wrong: I was always Jewish, and I have been a storyteller since as long as I can remember. Maybe half of my storytelling performance work has been with Jewish groups for a good many years. I’ve told updated versions of Old Testament stories, Jewish folklore and literary tales; I’ve even lectured on Isaac Bashevis Singer and Philip Roth, two Jewish literary giants. I’ve contributed to an encyclopedia of Jewish literature, and I’ve edited or ghosted two books on Jewish themes. I even majored in Hebrew literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary.  But it wasn’t until this summer that I really came out of the Jewish closet.

Here’s how it happened: At the beginning of the summer, I knew I had to do something big in order to get work for the coming season. So I contacted the Jewish supplement to our local paper—you know you’re in a Jewish area when such a thing exists, given that there are only six million Jews in the country—and they ran the piece. From that, and the subsequent re-running of the piece in the community section of the paper—slow news month, I guess—I got a lot of work. Then, a couple of months later, I arranged to do a twice-monthly column in the same supplement.

So what’s the big deal? First and foremost, I am delighted for the work. Work is a good thing; don’t let anybody tell you different. Second, storytellers generally feel really secure when they have a comfortable niche, particularly when it’s something that’s authentically theirs, like an African-American’s telling African folktales, or a—well, a Jew telling Jewish ones. We tend to get a little queasy when we feel like someone is appropriating another culture without sufficiently earning that right.

But most of all, I am just more comfortable than I’ve ever been—although I’m not 100 percent there yet—letting the non-Jewish world know that this is who I am and this is what I do. If I were black, I’d have nothing on that subject to hide, whether I wanted to or not. It’s those things that can be more easily hidden—being Jewish, being gay, for instance—that somehow feel, at least to many of us, like we shouldn’t bring them out into the open unless we are compelled to do so. Of course historically there is good reason for this. The Boca Raton Hotel & Club down the street from my house was “restricted,” not allowing Jews to pass through its doors, a mere 60 years ago. I graduated from Columbia University, which did not, to my knowledge, accept more than a small quota of Jews early on in its history.

Even now, I wonder if I’m really going to post this. Even now, I think: There is so much prejudice in the world, so much hatred, why open myself up to it? But that’s the thing about storytelling. After a good long week of it (I had three gigs yesterday plus I taught two, three-hour university classes on the subject this week, then recorded for my radio show today) opening up becomes a more-or-less natural state. Not only that, but opening up feels like it could even be a healthy and joyful choice.

Happy new year, world. I am a Jewish storyteller.

Hearing Is Believing

earI’ve been doing quite a bit of introductory storytelling lecturing lately, given that it’s the beginning of the semester. One of the concepts I typically bring out in these early discussions is the fact that audiences, at least in the Western tradition, remember infinitely more that they see in a presentation (the visual) than tone of voice or content. Some researchers have even put the ratio at 78, 15 and 7 percent. So, I argue, storytelling is especially effective because the vast majority of us (as many as 97 percent) get visual images in our minds when we hear a story. Thus, the argument goes, storytelling, albeit an oral art form, contributes to discourse on a visual, and thus particularly potent, level.

At least that’s the point I’ve been making for years. Then yesterday it occurred to me that the argument privileges the visual. In other words, it takes as a given that we are visual beings and equates “visual” with “potent.” So the more “visual” storytelling becomes, even if those pictures are only in our heads, the better, or at least more effective, it is.

It isn’t like that everywhere, of course, and it hasn’t always been that way here. I have read that there are indigenous tribes for which smelling, rather than seeing, is believing, and certainly pre-literate peoples and the blind are going to believe, at least partly, in hearing.  As time goes on, however, our communal sense of sight becomes more and more important (it’s not easy using a computer, or experiencing (I first wrote “watching,” but corrected it, because we also listen to) a film or TV show, if our sense of sight is not strong–not to mention driving a car or walking down a city street. We rely less on our hearing, smell, taste and touch, not to mention instinct, the proverbial “sixth” sense, because sight is predominant.

But how many times have our eyes fooled us? I will never forget meeting a former colleague in his office on the first day of his new job. He looked—and sounded—fine. No shaky hands, no quavering voice, and his words were confident and smooth. But—I hope you’re not eating while you read this—I could smell his fear from across the room. And last night, experiencing television in the living room, I could smell my husband’s bread burning in the toaster oven in the kitchen. We hadn’t heard the toaster alarm go off, a sure sign that the food was done, because he had accidentally set it on BAKE.

Then there are all the other buzzers and alarms in our lives, the cellphones going off, the babies’ cries, the “you’ve got mail” chimes. When I taste the soy milk to find out (I accidentally wrote “see”–“see” how vision-centric I am?) if it’s gone bad, my sight doesn’t help me at all. When I squeeze the tomato to find out if it’s ready to eat, my sight isn’t worth anything, either.

So where am I going with this? I have come to understand—NOT to see—that I am denigrating storytelling, aka the oral narrative tradition, by suggesting that it’s powerful because it’s got a visual component. Far better for me, or at least more interesting, to say: Let’s listen to the world around us. It speaks volumes.

Let’s Hear It for Storytelling Organizations!

Florida-old_postcard012I recently received an e-mail from Kaye Byrnes, the administrator/ treasurer for the Florida Storytelling Association (FSA), with some information related to our profession. Maybe it was the morning I received the message; maybe it was Kaye’s inimitable style—but I was so moved that I called and thanked her (because we are who we are, this took 65 minutes of phone time) for all the effort she has put into our state storytelling organization.

It wasn’t always like this for me. Having held more than a few leadership positions in the storytelling world over the past decade or more, I have repeatedly sworn that I would never do so again. The experiences were, by and large, too time- and energy- and gut-consuming for me. I even apologized to Kaye during that looooong call because I had tried—unsuccessfully, I am glad to report—to steer away would-be Board members from FSA service.

I should quickly note that I have nothing but admiration for FSA. It was honestly nothing personal. I just couldn’t understand, after all that time I spent in volunteer service to storytelling, why any of us would put so much effort into organizational work when our own careers were not exactly flying—usually because we put so much effort into organizational work! But that morning, it was as if the veil I had thought was permanently lifted off my eyes when I stopped donating my time were somehow reapplied and rearranged, more neatly and nicely this time.

I am not ready to serve on a Board again, not that anyone is asking. (Suffice it to say, I am not the world’s most effective leader.) But I suddenly recognized that just because actors don’t contribute hours and years of service to coach and support and give work to fellow actors (from what I have been told, the acting profession is way too cutthroat for that) doesn’t mean that the storytelling world has to follow that model. We are misunderstood and maligned in the real, outside, entertainment industrial complex world because no one can figure out what we do that everyone in the world doesn’t do for free. If, as we say, everybody tells stories all the time, then what are we doing hanging out shingles? Why should we get paid for something so patently instinctive? (The answer, of course, is that it’s like singing and dancing. You can do it in your living room, and you can do it for your school play, but that doesn’t mean you do it well enough for someone to pay you to see it.) The thing is, the storytelling work pie, such as it is, is larger than that of the acting world, simply because storytelling is everywhere. Storytelling is like love: There is plenty to go around. It expands when there are more people to share it. You can quote me on that.

Most storytellers work with all sorts of populations, but we all have our specialties. Some of us, like the storyteller Mij Byram, specializes in work with tiny children. their parents and teachers. Others, like Carrie Sue Ayvar, are known for bilingual and historical work. Susan O’Halloran has her diversity programs; Gail Rosen and Diane Rooks their bereavement storytelling; Loren Niemi and Annette Simmons their business clients. Others specialize in education, health care, community work, etc. As for me, I am primarily a storyteller for older adult and Jewish audiences, as well as college/professional trainings.

The point is, we are really not in competition for the same “roles.” The storytelling universe, like the bigger one, is constantly expanding. And storytelling organizations help tellers and audiences find each other, in the best possible settings, and for the best possible reasons. Thank you!

You CAN Go Home Again and Live to Tell the Tale

loveuThis is my last hour in my hometown in a New York City suburb. I have been visiting my family here for a week. In seven short days, I have kissed and cavorted with members of four generations. I am not anxious to leave them.

During the time we’ve been together, we have communed not only with each other, but also with those who are not with us. My mother’s half-brother reminds me, for the first time, of my beloved grandfather, who died 11 years ago. We have discussed various details of my deceased father’s personality. We have debated the job prospects of my niece back in L.A.

Through it all, we have told stories. Before becoming a professional storyteller, I never realized that I had grown up in a family of storytellers. For that matter, before becoming a teacher of storytelling, I never realized that virtually all families are families of storytellers.

My mother told me the following story off the top of her head when I was six years old, and she was 32: There was a Volkswagen named Pickles. She was very wrinkled, so she bought wrinkle cream. She spread so much wrinkle cream all over her body that she disappeared.

That’s not the kind of story I was thinking of, necessarily, and it doesn’t technically qualify as a family story. I was compiling an anthology at the time, and I was annoying my mother to contribute something. She told me this off the top of her head. The reason I bring it up is that years later, it is the story about her telling me this story that has become a family story. With time and reflection, I can see that growing older was something that was beginning to bother her (did I mention that she owned a Volkswagen), at a time when she had recently started attending college.  Imagining my mother’s feelings at age 32, when she was impossibly old to me at an age that now strikes me as impossibly young, is interesting. At least to me.

So is walking around the park in which I cut classes (actually we cut lunch, but that’s too embarrassing to admit right off the bat) from junior high, kissed my 16-year-old boyfriend and ice skated. I have so many memories of my hometown, both good and bad, that, in communication terms, the “noise” can at times be overwhelming. That is to say, I sometimes quite literally have trouble seeing and hearing what is all around me in the present, because the past insists on intruding. This is not necessarily a problem; after all, I do not work and live there. But I keep thinking: How can I stop coming here, once my mom no longer lives in this town? How can I ever hold onto my past if I no longer walk these streets?

I know that it’s unusual to have one’s mother live in the same house for more than 50 years. I know it’s not common to be able to go home again. And so many people would like nothing less. But for me, the trip back to that New York suburb is a constant source of nourishment. I recall what I wanted, what I got, what I didn’t want, what I wasn’t able to get. It doesn’t always make me happy. But it reminds me that I survived it. Every bit of it. And that, at least, is deeply satisfying.

Stories Against Anxiety

I have been feeling a bit anxious lately. My financial and professional situation recently changed dramatically, and I am no longer young enough to go the usual route of job-hunting. Even spring chickens are having trouble finding work in this economy. I know spring chickens. And I am no spring chicken.

Then, in the past six weeks, I had an amazingly fortunate promotional coup that has brought in a lot of work for the coming year. (More about that in a later post.) Given that situation, one would have thought that the anxiety would have tamped down a lot. One would have thought.

Instead, I still lie awake at 3 a.m. worrying. Not about this year’s financial prospects. I worry about NEXT year. Why should the same people and organizations hire me again? Are there going to be MORE who will want to hire me? And, worst of all, what happens when I actually have to fulfill all the obligations I’ve taken on thanks to that PR coup? Am I going to be overextended and overwhelmed? Am I going to be able to handle it all? As they say in the financial world, past performance is no guarantee of future….

Then, fortunately, I recalled my storytelling training. I remembered that the step-by-step, sense detail-by-sense detail nature of storytelling teaches us mindfulness, aka living in the moment. I remembered that in the present, which is all I know for sure, I am well-fed and well-clothed (okay, sometimes my husband questions this assumption, but that, again, is for another post). I have my health and more-than-adequate shelter. Storytelling also tells us that anything can happen to anyone: the youngest, most foolish son always gets the treasure and the girl—eventually. Storytelling reminds us that tomorrow, as that great philosopher Scarlett O’Hara once said, is another day.

We storytellers are always touting the psychological benefits of our art form, but like any professionals, we can fall into the physician-heal-thyself, shoemaker-whose-children-have-no-shoes trap. We sometimes forget that we and our listeners are reminded every time we hear a story not that all will necessarily be well, but that endings are not usually foreseeable, and that conflict is often the seed of the most beautiful flowers.

Again, stories do not tell us that everything is always going to be all right. But there is at least an even chance that it will. We can never, ever know the story’s end until it’s over. Even with the help of the imagination that stories help us exercise, we can’t possibly imagine what that end will be. As another great philosopher once said, it ain’t over till it’s over.

Whenever I forget this, even for a moment, I will go back to this post. I hope you will, too.


A Storyteller Salutes Toastmasters International

I emcee VOX at Gizzi's in Delray Beach, Florida

I emceed VOX at Gizzi’s in Delray Beach

A wonderful professional storyteller friend of mine once denigrated “Toastmasters storytelling” to me. I don’t think she knew that I was an active Toastmaster from 1998-2006, or that I still write for the organization. I believe she was making the point that when Toastmasters tell stories, they do so in an instrumental way, that is, the story doesn’t succeed in and of itself as a work of art, but rather as a means to an end, presumably one that is business- or education-oriented.

Toastmasters storytelling is not only goal-oriented; it also looks different. It allows the teller to move around the stage at strategic moments, much like the paragraph breaks in written language. Sometimes it employs props, or other visual aids. Interaction, if any, tends to be more direct than the subtle co-creation of, for lack of a better word, aesthetic storytelling.

Sometimes I tell stories one way, at different times the other.  But in any case, I wouldn’t be a storyteller without Toastmasters. I have written, told and even recorded stories since I was young, but I rarely wanted attention from a crowd, and certainly not from strangers. I didn’t even have a wedding due to my fear of having all eyes on me! With the single exception of standing in a classroom in front of students, I couldn’t bear the spotlight.

Now, looking back, I have such regret about missed opportunities that I must constantly remind myself that I am fortunate that at least I found this organization when I did. Only after obsessively attending and participating in Toastmasters club meetings for a couple of years did I venture into the professional storytelling world. Before, I hadn’t had the slightest interest in anything but writing and teaching. And I certainly didn’t have the skills I have now.

Storytelling and  public speaking can blend together very nicely and effectively. I have said that I think of teaching, speaking, acting and storytelling as sort of like the U.S., Great Britain, Australia and Canada. In each case, the four share many things in common, and so at first glance you’d think it would be an easy leap from one to the other. But similarly in each case, the similarities melt away the better you know them. I think that’s a good thing, because we have so much more to discover.

From time to time, an audience member will tell me that I’m so good, I am “really an actress.” Or a student will refer to a storytelling performance as a “speech” and a storyteller as a “speaker.” I am working on stopping this from bothering me, but with mixed success. Storytelling is storytelling, I tell myself, and my interlocutor. It succeeds and fails on its own merits. But that’s not really true. Storytelling is aesthetic communication, whether at a Toastmasters convention or around the kitchen table. We gatekeepers do no one a service.

Toastmasters, on the other hand, is a gift to us all.

What Will Your Biographer Write?

I have been thinking more than ever these days about my dear friend Florence Ferreira, who died December 10, 2012, at age 51. Some may call it morbid, but in some ways, I am a sort of walking, talking shrine to my friend, wearing her clothing that her loved ones gave me after her death, fostering her cat when her beloved fiance is out of town, and generally doing my best to make every moment of life I have lived since her death matter.

That’s no easy task. Last night I was so pooped after a long day out of the house that I sank into the couch munching pretzels and chocolate and devouring a movie I had seen at least once before. Ditto the previous night, hopefully sans the snacks, but I can’t even guarantee that. There are so, so many moments of life that will, most likely, never make it into the final, authorized version of our lives. Lost moments, those too hard to explain, and those that just plain make us ashamed—not because we robbed a bank or shot an innocent bystander, but because we simply did not do the right thing, because nobody, or nobody who would have objected, was watching.

We cannot live our lives as if a drone were recording every millisecond for posterity. That’s waaaay too much pressure. But those of us who have read biography—as opposed to autobiography or memoir, which are self-created and self-editing, if not always self-serving—know that some lives, in the final analysis, contain more of the wheat than the chaff.

I think of Florence’s life. So damned short, and yet to her biographer, if there ever is one, brimming with meaning. Yes, she watched many, many movies in her downtime. (And being seriously ill for a decade before her death, she had more than her share of downtime.) Yes, she deeply regretted all the books she never got to write, all the lectures she never got to give. But when I look at the narrative of her life, I see a trajectory, a narrative arc, that was rich and forward-moving. I see a train that was mostly on track, particularly during those last, desperate years. She was intensely aware that life was short, not in the cliched sense, but in the sense of water poured into our palms, through splayed fingers.

With that knowledge, she didn’t become an ambassador or a rock star; her stage was limited. But she still exists in the lives and work of everyone who knew her, whether we are conscious of the fact or not. She lived, and she lives, in virtually every sense of the word except the one that goes to the supermarket in the middle of the day and cries out in the middle of the night in pain.  Her story, literally, continues.

I won’t go into the details of Florence’s legacy, because I am not ready to address it here. My point is simply this: Someone could be writing our biography, or more likely our obituary, tomorrow. What would be the arc of our lives, when they are over?  What will be the meaning?

Life review, which is an established technique devised decades ago, requires older adults to find, and resolve, the crisis points of their lives before they pass on. Memoir, which I often write for clients, provides an impressionistic, aesthetic framework for reviewing events and insights. In neither case is it necessary to have had a life containing material for a major motion picture. We have all read novels that are not plot-driven, but rather character-driven. (This is harder to do, albeit not impossible, in film.) The beauty and/or the meaning, I submit, derive from a mixture of form and substance.

The overarching, narrative arcs of our lives do not need to resemble the OdysseyCasablanca or Star Wars. We just need to be aware that they exist, and to live our lives accordingly—whatever that means to each of us.