Thursday, January 17, 2013

If A Tree Falls...

If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?
Does a text without a reader, or a story without a listener, have meaning?

I am a writer of stories, and a reader. I've never thought of myself as an oral storyteller per se, but aren't we all? Isn't this what we do at the office water cooler, at school pickup, at the kiddush table at shul, over dinner? Through telling stories, we process the events of our lives. What we may not realize is that even while we are on the receiving end, listening to stories, we are making meaning.

Reader theory posits that the meaning of a text is created by the reader. (Full disclosure: I was once a lit grad student.) Since each reader brings different backgrounds, presuppositions, and attitudes to a text, the meaning of the text depends on the reader. Some would even say there is no meaning without the reader.

If I lost you with my theorizing, come back!

My point here is actually simple: stories are powerful--the stories that we hear and read influence our take on the world. At the same time, we take away from stories the things that we need or want because we all have our own baggage. Listening and reading are ways of making meaning, as much as speaking or writing or telling.

In a previous post, I wrote about the power of a good birth story. Stories like my friend's influenced me to want to have a good experience of birth. This may not sound controversial, but in my world it was. Health care providers and family members were critical and dismissive of my desire to have a good birth, as opposed to a birth with a good outcome (which equalled a healthy baby and nothing more).

Few people's lives have demonstrated the power of positive storytelling like Ina May Gaskin's. This pioneering midwife's books, like Spiritual Midwifery and  Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, have influenced countless women to believe in, and seek out, peaceful, normal birth. Very excited to hear her speak this evening, after a screening of the new documentary, Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin & the Farm Midwives. More about this, to come.

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