The Power of Story

First, a POSTSCRIPT to last week’s blog: In my last post I mentioned how much I enjoy the possibility of unraveling & re-doing in that exists in most fiber work. However, too often I let my wonderings about those illusive possibilities take over a project, leaving it unfinished for a long, long time. That’s what happened with my Thalassa mask (introduced in the May 28 post — almost 6 months ago!). I spent months arranging & rearranging fiber for her background. I must admit I loved the process of adding, subtracting, rearranging, just touching the beautiful soft and colorful fibers. I was not in a hurry to finish, but I finally told myself to stop playing, to bring that conversation to a close, and to go ahead and wet-felt the piece in its final form. (Wet-felting cannot be unraveled!)

And then began the conversation (occasionally almost moving towards argument, but eventually calming down into negotiation) among the completed background, Thalassa’s hair, and myself. I know I — with my dissatisfaction & perfectionist tendencies, alas — made that conversation much more fraught than necessary as I tried one thing, …then another, …and another….

Now I am eager to try some of the many new ideas that emerged from all that trying, so the time was not “wasted,” …. but I am relieved that the fibers & I have achieved a conclusion at last!

The Power of Story

Ben Okri, The Mystery Feast ( This is part of his address given at the “Everything Under the Sun Storytelling Festival, 2013);

As this is a celebration of storytelling, it is also important to state that stories can also be pernicious. Stories have been used for evil. They have been used for the denigration, the demonisation, and the extermination of peoples. This is because of the psychological power of stories, their ability to fit in perfectly with our belief brain cells. It is easier for people to believe nasty things about others if you tell nasty stories about them.

Stories used as negative propaganda have fueled wars, tribal dissensions, and genocide. False stories use the same laws as good stories, making them readily acceptable to our imagination. The true danger of stories is that they bypass intelligence and go straight to the subconscious. Why else have very intelligent people…believed such absurd things…? The subliminal demonisation in stories and images is one of the roots of racism and sexism.

…. Whenever we listen to negative stories about others we are contributing to this ongoing preparation for some unforeseen future monstrosity.

This week I read a story in the Washington Post that reminded me of Ben Okri’s words. It’s a long story about a traumatized young veteran who helped create a story/video, trying to understand and work through his war experiences and disillusionment in the process. The resulting video, “Loose Change,” was subsequently adopted by extremists, contributing to the current “conspiracy culture” in the U.S. I’ll just summarize a few points here. I do hope you will read the whole article so you can get a more rounded understanding of Korey Rowe, learn the details & really get a feel for its “story-ness.” My Washington Post subscription allows me to share access as a gift article –>  https://wapo.st/3DbTYUy

If that doesn’t work, try https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/interactive/2021/loose-change-korey-rowe-911-truth-conspiracy/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most&carta-url=https%3A%2F%2Fs2.washingtonpost.com%2Fcar-ln-tr%2F35423b5%2F618d50409d2fdab56b84f48f%2F5ee01337ae7e8a4360c30ba1%2F9%2F72%2F618d50409d2fdab56b84f48f . You can also find recent (9/8/21) commentary on the video itself at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/08/technology/loose-change-9-11-video.html

The Washington Post piece begins: “A veteran helped spread viral 9/11 conspiracy theories. Can he start over? Nearly 20 years after shipping off to war, a soldier who helped make the ‘Loose Change’ video wrestles with the power stories have to heal and to destroy.” (Jose A. Del Real, Washington Post, November 11, 2021)

When he was a teenager, Korey Rowe made some bad choices, dropping out of school at 16. By the time he turned 18, Korey knew he needed help to straighten out his life so he joined the Army in 2001, planning to save for college. Just weeks later, while he was still in basic training, the U.S. experienced the terrorist attacks of 9/11 & Korey soon found himself fighting in two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) for which he was not prepared. War ‘was something I wasn’t ready for emotionally, physically, mentally,” he said. “It was not something I wanted. It was not something I expected. Those were the hardest years of my life.’

Kory returned to civilian life a “deeply broken” young man. When an old friend asked his help in producing a video about the 9/11 attacks, Korey agreed. As they began doing research, the two became fascinated with the conspiracy theories that were floating around. Those stories seemed to Korey to fit with his own distrust of the government’s motives for and the appalling methods used during the wars: “I had seen countless innocent people die for no good reason, for a war that was based on lies,” Korey said.”This wasn’t a report I read. I was there. I saw them rob the American taxpayers and murder innocent people by invoking 9/11 every day.” …. “I was f—ing angry. I was angry at the government. I was angry at the media. I just wanted to say something,” Korey recalled. “And so this became my vessel. We never, ever, ever expected it to go anywhere.”

The series in question, “Loose Change,” made fantastical claims about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, including that the World Trade Center was brought down by explosives rather than airplanes and that the Pentagon had been attacked by a military missile. Laced throughout the videos was the suggestion that the U.S. government was intentionally concealing the truth about the attacks, including perhaps its own participation in them. It melded compelling narration drawn from Internet research with engrossing news footage from the attacks to create a highly watchable documentary.

And the videos did go somewhere — Exploding onto the internet when just when folks were discovering ways to connect and pass along “information” through new social networks, the videos were viewed by millions & lodged in the hearts and minds of those (whether extremist or not) who already distrusted the government’s handling of the 9/11 crisis. “Loose Change” was perhaps the first Internet blockbuster.

Korey Rowe has no sympathy for right-wing extremists, but the story he told fifteen years ago in his anguish and confusion has taken on a life of its own. It remains a key rallying point for extremist agitators today. It is often seen as a significant player in the polarization that currently distresses the U.S. Today, after a few more years of wrong turns and poor choices, Korey is committed to a new life. He’s married with 2 young daughters & is starting a video business in his hometown of Oneonta, NY. Korey wants to use his storytelling skills in ways that he feels will be more positive — to create video ads that tell the stories of locally-owned businesses and someday to make documentaries.

The article concludes: In retrospect, Korey and his friends had become characters in a story arc they didn’t recognize, at once patients and superspreaders of a new disease of viral misinformation that would come to infect all of America.

But how could he and his friends be blamed for creating anger and distrust, Korey tried to understand, when they had been reacting to those feelings themselves? Could there be some truth to it?

How shall we take responsibility for the stories we tell, the ways we tell them, and the stories that we take into our hearts? I am thinking today of Gosar, the member of the U.S. House of Representatives who posted an animated video of himself killing another member of the House and attacking the President of the United States. What do the stories we tell say about us? When we tell a story — to ourselves or to others — we weave a world. What kind of world will it be?

As Okri reminds us in Birds of Heaven,1996: To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralized nation tells demoralized stories to itself. Beware of story-tellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art: they could unwittingly help with the psychic destruction of their people.

Stories can illuminate, build, and heal. They can also destroy.

All We Do, by Ben Okri

"Gazing at the shape of a hill,
The grey horizon,
A woman reading a book,
A landscape shaped by history.
All we do is story.

Our public acts are dreams.
Our private acts are dramas.
Submerged rivers are our thoughts, 
Misted streams our hopes.

Like the spider we turn
All things into ourselves.
We bend the light
Of time into fables.

Beyond our mind, reality moves.
Unknowable like the darkness
Before creation.

We carve from the unknown
A world.
Without story
Our identities
Starve.

We live in and out
Of time
Simultaneously.

Living belongs to story.
Being belongs to mystery.
Beyond form
our souls
Breathe.

We yield time
Our story-making sense.
In this portion of eternity,
Awake and in dreams,
We live myths.
It's what makes us immense."

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