Zia Hassan

Storytelling In Troubling Times

I tell stories for a living and for my hobbies. The medium through which I tell the story doesn’t matter: it could be a guitar, a microphone, or a coat hanger. The mediums that generate me the most income become my job (technology) and the ones that generate the most satisfaction become my hobbies (songwriting).

What draws me to stories, just like everyone else, is their structure; they have a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s a tried and true formula, though some storytellers play with the order of these elements.

In these past few weeks, I’ve realized how much that structure gives life its meaning. There are stories all around us: news stories, social media posts, YouTube scripts, classroom lectures, etc.

If there isn’t a beginning to a story, we write it in. It’s why origin stories are so appealing – you can finally find out the beginning of the (larger) narrative.

We also write in an ending if we don’t know it. It’s why the idea of religion/heaven is so appealing, or why so many news articles makes predictions about coronavirus as if they are clairvoyant.

The problem with stories that are still “in-process,” that have a beginning and endless middle, is that we want to skip to the ending as soon as it gets boring.

It’d be nice to know how the pandemic ends. Many popular blog posts and videos pontificate about this.

It’d be nice to know when and how black lives get justice. Here, in the endless middle of the story, it’s hard to know.

Every person that commits to being anti-racist has to deal with just how infinite the middle of the story feels right now. How much work there is to be done. How much reflecting. How much self-questioning.

The middle can go on for quite some time. And along the way, there will be victories as well as setbacks. There will be different perspectives. There will be lives whose endings came before their middles were done middling.

We need to be comfortable with the fact that there is no ending to this story.

Maybe life is less like those narratives we love and more like a sine wave. It goes up and it comes down, scraping gently against the center.