Monday, July 01, 2024

"I'm Anna!" "No, I'm Anna!"

"I'm Anna!"

"No, I'm Anna!"

It wasn't the first time that children argued over who was Anna or Elsa or Batman or one of the Paw Patrol characters. Their bodies were rigid beneath the thin fabric of their princess dresses, the faces red and fierce. The other children stood around them, their game at an impasse as the girls stood toe-to-toe.

"There's only one Anna!" one of them shouted, putting a fine point on the obvious. They all knew the story. Some of them had always known the story, having watched it unfold again and again on their screens for as long as their parents had allowed them to view screens. There is only one Anna, yet here we were with two.

Or rather, from where I stood outside the story, there were no Annas, just two children staking a claim to a role in a game of pretend. Neither of them was really Anna. I could see that. The children who encircled them could see it. 

"(W)e think we tell stories," writes Rebecca Solnit in her book The Faraway Nearby, "but often the stories tell us."

Up to this point, the story had been largely telling the girls as they followed the familiar script, but now, with the advent of two Annas, the story had taken an impossible turn. As the children stood in that moment, balanced between the familiar and unfamiliar, known and unknown, everything was up in the air. It would have been easy to step in with my adult-ish stories about getting along and taking turns and sharing, but that would have been missing the point. 

We have all faced these moments when our stories stop telling us, when people or events, make the familiar impossible. This, I think, was at least in part what philosopher Blaise Pascal was getting at when the wrote, "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone." If we could, we would simply allow our stories to tell us, but the moment we step out into the world, the moment our scripts must be merged with those of our fellow humans, we must figure out how to tell our story with two Annas or three or, we come to realize, Annas that go all the way down.

Everything we think we know is part of the story we tell about the world. Movies like Frozen in many ways stand-in for the mythologies that always underpin our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. What makes these modern stories different from those ancient stories is that the telling as been fixed by the nature of movie-making, suggesting that the story is forever and unalterable. For most of human existence, however, before the phonetic alphabet made it possible to create this illusion, our oral tradition meant that every story was either told and retold or forgotten, and each time it happened, invariably, the story changed depending upon the teller and the circumstances. Every telling of every story was an act of creation in which we tell the story while the story tells us.

"I'm Anna!"

"No, I'm Anna!"

"I know! We can both be Anna!"

The old truth had been made into a new truth: two Annas miraculously born from one. It was at once both new and as old as any story ever told; as new and as old as any story that has ever told us.

It took a moment for the children to absorb this amazing new thing that had been created, but not for long, because in the world outside our rooms, the stories can't be paused or bookmarked. They go on telling us and we go on telling them in a never-ending process of creating two Annas from one.


If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy one of my books. To find out more, Click here! "Few people are better qualified to support people working in the field of early childhood education than Teacher Tom. This is a book you will want to keep close to your soul." ~Daniel Hodgins, author of Boys: Changing the Classroom, Not the Child, and Get Over It! Relearning Guidance Practices

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