Last week at Eastern Illinois University, Dr. Catherine Belling, a Medical Humanities professor at Northwestern, came and spoke about Ebola and its effects not only as a disease of the body but also how it affects the narrative of humankind. Her interest in reading scientific information through humanist and literary lenses is unique, intriguing, and inspiring.
Reading life through a literary lens is a characteristic, I think, of many members of the literary community. Even simple tasks like doing laundry become less mundane when one imagines writing out the task to make it interesting. While we may just be throwing our clothes in the washer & slopping some detergent on top, our mind wanders to think of all the ways to make this more interesting—piling our heap of worn, faded blue jeans into the outdated washing machine. Carefully measuring out the blue liquid detergent and evenly drizzling it over the clothes. Listening to the water rush over the fabrics, smelling the clean scent of the soap, watching the machine shake as it spins the clothes round and round.
Even outside of describing our loads of laundry with flowery language, our lives are stories. Roger Fransecky wrote a blog post for the Huffington Post In it, he says, “we are the authors of our experience and at any given moment we are the sum total of all of our choices.” That’s powerful stuff! His point is that we control our own lives. We can dictate where we live, how we make money, and whom we spend our time with. Our life is a beautiful, budding story, and we’re the writers.
I’m currently in a literature theory class, and we read a compelling article by J. Hillis Miller entitled “Narrative.” In it, he argues that we build narratives around our life experiences but give them more order. This argument is true, especially when considering written biographies. I went to a conference my freshman year of college where a student talked about her experience writing her autobiography. Her editor wanted her to pull a common thread throughout the story, so she edited her life (slightly) to fit a narrative form. This draws a thin line—how far are we willing to go before we start molding our lives after narratives? Our life is most likely not a romantic comedy with a specific order of events, so do we look for people, places, and events to make our lives feel like a narrative?
I suppose everything can be read through a narrative lens. Whether it’s Ebola, our own lives, or a dirty load of laundry, everything has meaning and everything is a story.