The Power of Stories

Posted by Cecilia Leger on 4:58 AM

Because stories are important.

People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it's the other way around.

Stories exist independently of their players. If you know that, the knowledge is power.

Stories, great flapping ribbons of shaped spacetime, have been blowing and uncoiling around the universe since the beginning of time. And they have evolved. The weakest have died and the strongest have survived and they have grown fat on the retelling . . . stories, twisting and blowing through the darkness.

And their very existence overlays a faint but insistent pattern on the chaos that is history. Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow in the same way that water follows certain paths down a mountainside. And every time fresh actors tread the path of the story, the groove runs deeper.

This is called the theory of narrative causality and it means that a story, once started, takes a shape. It picks up all the vibrations of all the other workings of that story that have ever been.

This is why history keeps on repeating all the time.

So a thousand heroes have stolen fire from the gods. A thousand wolves have eaten grandmother, a thousand princesses have been kissed. A million unknowing actors have moved, unknowing, through the pathways of story.

It is now impossible for the third and youngest son of any king, if he should embark on a quest which has so far claimed his older brothers, not to succeed.

Stories don't care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats. Or, if you prefer to think of it like this: stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service only of the story itself.

It takes a special kind of person to fight back, and become the bicarbonate of history.

Once upon a time...


The theory of narrative causality, found on page 2 of Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett.

This is my favorite quote from Terry Pratchett, author of the popular Discworld series. Daddy introduced me to his writing and I think he has a very original voice. His writing is primarily considered fantasy, or at least comedic fantasy. He's hilarious and very creative.


I Want to be Supergirl When I Grow Up!

Posted by Cecilia Leger on 3:23 AM

My transformation was sudden, but complete. With absolutely no preparation or premeditation on my part, I became an athlete.

On Sunday.

During our six-hour brunch at Andrew’s house.

Together with a group of dear friends (and barring a return to my senses), a year and a half from now I’ll have completed my first triathlon. The purpose of our getting together on Sunday was to begin planning for it. We now have a team name (I Am Not With Them) and a logo for our t-shirts!

I’ve been a committed couch potato for the past 35 years (I say 35 because I’m sure my mother wasn’t doing much of anything during the last few months of her pregnancy). Yet somewhere between the quiche, the ice cream, and the movie . . . it happened. Buoyed by great food, laughter, and (of course!) Craig’s and Jonathan's optimism, I made the amazing discovery that I didn’t need to be afraid of my inner (ummm. . . quick, somebody name an athlete!). Apparently, all I’d needed all these years was peer pressure. Somehow I thought radically changing my life would be more complicated than this.

Today marks the beginning of Training Day Two. So far, here’s what I have accomplished (in order of importance):

  • Whining
  • Brunch
  • Starting a blog (newhopetriathlon.blogspot.com)
  • Bragging
  • Research (trying to find swimming lessons)
  • A few guilty glances at my bike
  • Rationalizing (“I could go to the gym right now, but then I’d lose my parking spot”)
  • My first sport injury (It’s my left pinkie; I’m not really sure why it hurts, but I’m positive there’s a connection.)
  • More whining (it’s part of my charm)

I was sharing this new adventure with a colleague yesterday (you know, so I could check off “bragging” on my list of things to do for training). I mentioned how much I hate running, how I don’t know how to swim, how I’ve only been on a bike a sum total of seven times in my entire life and she looked a little perplexed. Frankly, so did the cat when I told her what I was planning (although I must admit she moved from perplexed to indifferent in about two seconds).

So, why am I doing this?

Three years ago, I started the process of reinventing myself. I don’t know if there’s really an athlete inside of me or not (although that would explain the weight gain), but I do hope to learn to make a commitment to something that I’m doing entirely for me. For a variety of reasons, even contemplating the notion of working so hard for something that will not benefit somebody else makes me squirm uncomfortably. Others in my life taught me that putting myself first in any situation is selfish. And I taught myself that I needed to justify my existence by being useful.

I’m curious now to see what happens if I take on something is that is so far out of what’s normal for me. Maybe in a few months I’ll wish I’d have tried to reach my inner “knitter”! Maybe I’ll be able to definitively put an end to this runner’s high myth, this urban legend, this siren song that lures many innocents to their untimely cardiac health. Or maybe . . .

It’s the wonder and the power of the “maybe” that compelled me to sign up.

I’m so predictable!

(Image by Erick Egon at DeviantArt.com)


Dream Deferred

Posted by Cecilia Leger on 7:32 PM

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Poem by Langston Hughes
Image by Jack Vettriano (In Thoughts of You)


Where are you from?

Posted by Cecilia Leger on 11:22 AM
"Where are you from?"

People ask this of me casually when they hear my accent or find out my last name is pronounced “leher” not “ledger”. I’m sure all they want to hear is the name of a country, but that’s the same as thinking that someone will know who I am merely because I’ve told them my name. Where I’m from is so much more than a place.

My childhood memories are a collage of music and food and giving. As a little girl, I understood that there were plenty of things we didn’t have because there wasn’t enough money; I just didn’t know we were poor! I lived in a house that Pato and his sons built by hand and that didn’t have running water or electricity. But since I knew the story all I felt was pride. I knew that my grandmother had been widowed when she was very young; she’d been left alone and penniless, with six little girls to raise. Somehow this woman who could barely write her name found a way to become a land owner; I knew that each piece of wood she used to build the house I grew up in came from trees that grew on her property.

I knew that each day my aunt Nina cooked more food than was necessary so that people who dropped by would never be turned away hungry. That my cousin took a plate of food each day, each meal, to the elderly man who lived down the street and who didn’t have any family left. And whenever visitors came, my aunt Maria went into the fields to gather for them whatever was in season: mango, avocado, limoncillo, cajuil, plantains, corn, beans, pineapple, guava, coffee, cacao, lemons, oranges, tamarindo, and whatever else she could lay her hands on or her guests had a predilection for.

In the U.S., it is customary to bring a gift when visiting someone; where I am from, it’s the opposite. Giving and service are not laudable acts, they are merely good manners. It is buena educacion, which has nothing to do with what books teach and everything to do with how you are raised to treat and respect others.

When I was thirteen, my mother and I had tickets to return to the U.S. via Puerto Plata (about six hours from my house) on the day of a general strike. As no public transportation would be available on the day of the strike we needed to go to Puerto Plata one day early, but not having any family there meant we would have no place to stay. No problem, the taxi driver she’d hired assured my mother: he had a cousin who lived near the airport. We arrived at this stranger’s house unannounced and were treated as honored guests that evening. I remember a lot of domino games, Presidente beer, and merengue that night—our visit was enough reason for a party. Our taxi driver had gone back to my little town that night and left it up to his cousin to figure out a way to get us safely to the airport the next day.

Two years ago, during my last visit, no one was available to pick me up from the airport in Santo Domingo. Times have changed and crime is running rampant, so my mother worried about how I’d get to the bus terminal from the airport without being mugged. When the plane landed in Santo Domingo, I asked a young man to direct me to a reputable taxi so I could begin my final journey home. When he found out I was traveling alone, he refused to let me take a taxi. His family was coming to pick him up and they would make sure I got on the right bus safely.

True to the promise he’d made on their behalf, his parents drove me to the bus terminal and waited to make sure I was able to purchase a ticket to Salcedo without any hassle. “If the last bus for the day has already gone, you must stay with us tonight. This city is not safe for a woman traveling alone,” my young hero’s mother emphatically stated. I have no doubt that I would have been welcome in their home if I’d been stranded in the city that night.

So, where am I from?

I’m from a people who never need to know my name as everyone from taxi drivers, to store clerks, to office receptionists calls me mami, corazon, mi amor, linda, muñeca, bebe, or any of many other terms of endearment. I belong to a people who color their lives with relationships and music (oh, and a LOT of alcohol!).

So, where am I from?

I’m from the Sosa’s and the Ureña’s who live in Palmarito, near Salcedo. You’ll have heard of them. Specially the Sosa’s—known for their bad temper and tender hearts.

I have now lived in the U.S. many more years than in the Dominican Republic and I consider myself an American. But where I’m from guides my most basic impulses. I don’t understand why I should wait until help is requested before I can offer it. I don’t see the point in checking my calendar or my wallet before deciding what my contribution should be. It makes no sense to me that the things I’ve been graced with aren’t meant for public use.

That’s what I'd like to say when people ask me where I’m from.


I love a good story . . .

Posted by Cecilia Leger on 6:30 AM

A hunter – a successful hunter – has a superior knowledge of the habitat and behavior of the animals he hunts. He stalks his quarry with unhurried confidence, relishing even the danger of the game. He is a master tracker who is able to blend into the background so he can observe his prey and pick the perfect moment for attack. Hunting as an art form is a test of patience and mastery over emotion; the expert hunter does not go on a mindless rampage. No, he hones his instincts. He waits. He pursues. He must have complete self-discipline.

A measure of blood lust also helps.

Simon raised the cup of coffee leisurely to thin colorless lips as his eyes trained on the woman and her brat seated mere yards away from him on another park bench: he had no doubts about his measure of blood lust.

That she knew she was being hunted was not an accident. He savored each time she looked behind her in fear, considered it a personal triumph every time a stranger bumped into her and she reacted by hugging the boy close to her, ready to bolt. He’d let her survive this long because she amused him. And he toyed with her because she was trapped—trapped while living in complete freedom, trapped as she fled from city to city.

A week ago he’d even held her in his arms. He had followed her to the neighborhood grocery store, a run-down building that had once been a warehouse and whose outdated ventilation system did nothing to diminish the sickeningly sweet stench of rotting fruit or the pungent odor of the exotic fish the immigrants in this part of town loved to consume. Her arms burdened down with purchases in paper bags, she had used her body to push against the doors. He had abruptly pulled one open causing her to stumble into him.

He’d kept his hands on her arms a fraction longer than was necessary to steady her and how he’d loved seeing the panic rise up in her eyes. But he’d flashed her an affable smile and used his most soothing tone of voice, “Whoa! I’m so sorry.... are you OK?”

And she’d relaxed then, thanked him even! She’d rushed off but he was sure she was probably chastising herself for being so jumpy. Simon congratulated himself again on his mastery of disguise. His was the face she must see in every nightmare and yet she’d looked right at him and had not recognized her personal demon.

Of course, people only see what they want to see, as Simon knew. Having donned a clean shaven face and business suit he hardly looked like a predator to be feared. Who would ever choose to look past that to see the monster lying beneath? Lying isn’t about misleading people at all, he mused, it is merely letting people see what they are already begging to believe.

Simon smiled mirthlessly now as he overheard the lies the woman was telling the boy. “We’re explorers, honey. Like Marco Polo or Vasco De Gama! It’s exciting!”

The boy furrowed his brow as he considered her words. “But aren’t explorers supposed to go places where no one’s ever been? They’re supposed to discover new worlds, aren’t they?”

She touched his face tenderly and leaned in close so that their noses almost touched. “Sometimes, love, there are new worlds where we least expect to find them. Now go on! Go make friends!” She turned him around and gave him a gentle shove toward the playground.

Simon was pleased by the whole exchange. New worlds, she had promised the boy. He sipped again from his coffee: they had no idea.


Courage in a Crisis

Posted by Cecilia Leger on 7:59 AM
In a time of crisis, we all have romantic notions about ourselves: about the courage and selflessness which will mysteriously be available to us “when it finally counts.” Movies and books are filled with this theme—the common man who becomes the unwitting hero when events thrust him forward and life demands the ultimate sacrifice. Often we are presented with characters who redeem themselves after a lifetime of cowardice and self-centered behavior.

I just finished watching Battlestar Galactica this weekend; in the final episode, Admiral Adama asks for volunteers to go on a rescue mission that might result in their deaths. Gaius, who has spent all of season four (I haven’t seen the other seasons, so I don’t know what he was like previously) being a sniveling coward who only looks out for his own self interest, has a conversation with one of the heroes of the show in which he’s confronted with the reality that he thinks and acts only for himself. Following this revelation he decides to become one of the volunteers in this suicide mission. And, although I appreciate that the writers kept him as a nervous, frightened fighter, I would have been more interested had he remained selfish and self-centered to the end.

That’s the darkness in humanity we don’t always like to think about. In times of crisis, there are a great many who do rise above the circumstances and surprise even themselves with their acts of courage. But that’s not the full story. There are those who are frozen in place and those who become cruel and malicious. When it’s “lay-it-all-on-the-line-time” can you really be sure which side you’ll be on? Can you really know who you will show yourself to be?

In Saving Private Ryan, do you remember the soldier who cannot make himself face his fears and shoot his weapon even though he can hear his friend being killed? In The Red Badge of Courage, young Henry spends a great deal of the book spoiling for a fight and then ends up running away in the fear and confusion of his first battle. He rationalizes that the battle was lost anyway and his sacrifice would have been meaningless, then fakes a wound to explain away his absence from the front lines when he realizes that his battalion has actually won. In both works, the characters get a second chance to redeem themselves. However, I’d like to see more time spent on characters who do not.

What about a guy who leaves a burning building to save himself and leaves behind his own child? The audience could never forgive or like such a man. Partly, it is that we find such cowardice revolting. But could it be that we don’t want to face that maybe—just maybe—under the right circumstances we ourselves could be that cowardly?

On some level, it’s great to think about what we might be able to do given the chance. It is unlikely that any of us will ever have to face ourselves in the midst of such a crisis. But what about the hints of who we really are that we see during a thousand small disasters that we face during the course of a week? When we’re cut off in traffic? When precious time is wasted in a long line? When someone has treated us unfairly?

I know what I am like. I know that I am certainly not heroic or courageous when things do not go my way. When I’m hurt, I become a hermit. When I’m stressed, I lose my temper very easily. In times of deep emotional strife, I take care of myself first.

Oh, I’d love to think that in a crisis, I’d rise above all that and do the right thing. But I don’t really know. And even if I did, would that one act of courage be enough to redeem the years of self-centered behavior that I rationalize with “well, I’m having a really bad day.”

It is more heroic to face the little irritants of life consistently with grace and compassion than it is to have that one moment of courage in a crisis.

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