Thoughts on surviving dark times from a fellow Anteater

Department: Art History

Post Date: April 13, 2020

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Did you know that the Iliad and Odyssey emerged from Greece during the "dark ages" [c. 1200-800 BCE], when populations were declining and people felt fear and uncertainty over the future? Homer would have been a storyteller who kept people's spirits alive when the world seemed to be falling apart around them.

And in mid-14th century Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the Decameron, in which a group of young friends pass the time while waiting out the Plague, by telling each other stories: 100 tales of life, shared in the midst of death.

Right now in 2020, who is mostly telling us stories? The news, Netflix... someone else's realities and fantasies. And we feel tense if we are only passive receivers. Our spirits would be raised if we turned to each other, too. Let our bodies remain safe, but let our minds find solace as well, in each other. Our stories can also tell of anything from fantasy to reality, and all places in between. They can take place whenever, wherever-- as far as our memory and imagination will reach. There are also the options of songs, raps, poems, reading something you once read or wrote, things you've heard as either child or adult, etc.

With Zoom, we could tell each other stories, like Boccaccio's characters or ancient bards. And not limited to Anteaters of course-- you can reconnect with old friends, etc. I might suggest inviting older relatives to join, and we younger generations would have the privilege to be spellbound by the stories they've gathered; and they could hear ours! Or at least the ones we're willing to share. (: Zoom just seems like a convenient platform for such a group chat. This idea intends to prioritize our emotional wellbeing in the current moment, but imagine if we built a whole archive of stories told during this time (Does Zoom have a "record" feature?). Boccaccio would be proud either way.    

If you think it could be fun to imitate Boccaccio's Decameron as directly as possible under the circumstances, here is the method. But it's just an idea, and ideas are flexible:

1.) In the Decameron, each person told a story per day, and at the end of the day, the next day's "leader" would then announce the next day's (very general) theme. Once in your group, decide on your upcoming meet times, and elect a sequence of "leaders:" If you plan to meet on Zoom on Thursdays and Saturdays, then list out who will be leaders on those coming days. This planning will allow the upcoming leaders to dwell on what theme they might wish to propose. Of course, they also have the option of leaving their day an open topic, but I bet some interesting things would emerge if we were thematically spurred. (It need not be so planned. You can meet up with anyone, anytime, and anyone can simply suggest themes on the spot). 

2.) Whoever shall be leader on the first day will propose the first theme. In the meantime before Day 1, everyone may use this guiding topic to think of a story to share. Browse your memory, your life, let everything you've ever experienced, seen, or read come rushing back to you in a flurry of color within your mind's eye. A story will come to you.  

3.) When each meet day arrives, simply go around and share your story. The day's leader may serve as "master of ceremonies" to transition. In 2020, this would mean asking the next person to unmute their Zoom speaker. Of course, you'll all want to talk about certain stories after they're done, as connections blossom.

Here are some examples from the Decameron of daily themes:

Day 2: Misadventures that suddenly end happily.
Day 4: Lovers whose stories end in heartbreak.
Day 5: Lovers whose stories end in good fortune.
Day 7 & 8: People who play tricks on each other.
Day 9: Tales of great generosity.

Just as I finally decided to type up this email and forward it to my Department Chair to possibly be forwarded to others, I received a Facebook message from my best friend from 10th grade: "Hey love! I was just telling my grandma some stories of us when we were teens because some things reminded me of you that we were talking about. Hope that makes sense." I'll take it as a sign that I should at least try putting the idea out there. (: There are probably many people telling stories right now, but here are simply some historical echoes and some practical advice, to humans from a student of Humanities-- a reminder that stories have always been there for us, and still are.

Hoping peace and wellness remains with you and your loved ones, in body, mind, and spirit.

-- From a fellow Anteater