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Translating Reality

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Hayley Reed

May 17th, 2007

Translating Reality: 

Reality is a palette that humans paint on to let themselves sleep better at night. 

                                                                                    -Author Unknown                                                                                                            

Reality is a social construction that exists in the minds of individuals.  Individuals regardless of age, race, gender, or class construct realities to feel comfortable with their surroundings. We each “paint” our own realities to create final masterpieces. When every artist’s portfolio is taken out and each masterpiece is examined it surprising how different everyone’s final art work looks. If everyone has different interpretations of how reality is can any of us be certain that reality even exists? There may not be a single truth about reality but, there are certainly multiple individual truths about reality. In the end, there is no use comparing final works of art because each masterpiece has it’s own merit. The beauty in admiring a final collection of paintings from a myriad of artists is that each artist is able to observe a chunk of life through completely different lenses. My spoken word performance attempted to capture the beauty of each individual story and indicate that my connection to whatever reality is out there is through words.

It appears to be difficult to define reality but, no matter what an individual’s definition of reality is we all chose to rely on words to describe our different realities. Words can be used as an individual paint brushes and if used correctly they can construct landscapes.  In other words, words are the one way the human species can grasp fragments of reality. We observe our surroundings and use words to communicate with others how we see the things that surround us. Words are our unique gifts and we should not take this privilege lightly. Ultimately, the stories that we decide to construct have the power to influence the creation of other stories and motivate others to re-write their stories. Hopefully, our spoken word performance inspired members of our class to create their own stories and perhaps, even re-write our story.  

Ultimately, the creation of stories is a cyclical process that requires the input of everyone. Our performance would have been less generative if Jasmine, Becky, and I had not fully contributed. This is one of the reasons that as a group we decided to create an interactive performance that would up being an inclusive story about stories. In my analysis of storytelling it came to my attention that stories come into reality when human beings observe their surroundings. Once these stories are created we share our stories with the people around us. In this process of sharing stories some people are guaranteed to dispute what observations we have made.

In response to this healthy dialogue we can chose to repeat old stories or come up with new stories. An artist’s masterpiece is not always and should not be expected to be perfect on their first try. I know our performance was not ready until we re-wrote our story several times.  Even still, our story as it was performed could still be re-written and perfected. By paying close attention to reality and observing new details about an old story we can tell different stories. In this way the cycle of storytelling is left open to continue on for ages and anyone can choose to join this cycle to become a storyteller themselves.

Everyone has different languages and therefore has different words to describe reality. Within our class each student could find a different way to describe the reality that we presented in our spoken word performance. This was the point in requesting individuals to share with the rest of the class the observations they made about our performance and ultimately, how they chose to interpret our performance. As Jasmine, Becky, and I pointed out reality can be represented in a range of ways. For example, some see the absence of color as black while others see it as noir.

What happens when two people who speak the same language have different interpretations of a word? For example, the “black” I see is actually more of a deep purple then anything else. Does this mean someone else’s account/ description of the color black wrong? The truth of the matter is that I can never get into someone’s head so I can never really know what their reality is like. I will have to settle knowing there is no right or wrong way to see a color. As Becky, Jasmine, and I pointed out in our performance, we can’t say “one version of a story is most complete, most accurate, or most appealing.” The only conclusion we can all come to is that “we agree to disagree”.

The film “Being John Malkovich” explores this idea of what it would be like to observe reality through another person’s eyes. Several ideas in the film are seen in the ideas that are explored in our presentation.  For example, at one point in our presentation we said, “You see what I see and know what I don’t know but what I know isn’t what you know and do we know what we know at all?” This question aims to raise questions about consciousness and point out that reality is different for every human being on the face of the planet. There is no way of knowing how someone else see’s the word because we can not be someone else.

However, in the film, individuals get to do the impossible. For anyone that is willing to sign up and pay $200 they can be the actor john malkovich for exactly 15 minutes. In doing so, they get to experience the world through a completely different set of eyes. This chance to see a different reality then one’s own can often times be frightening and alarming but, this is why we construct reality. As we mentioned in our spoken word performance, “So why do we bother constructing reality? [It is] the only way to accept knowing you go through life not fully knowing.” The truth is often a scary reality but, it can help us define our identity and alert us to things about our reality we would not normally see. Often the truth is the best thing that can happen to you. The exposure of truth can often be used as groundwork for further exploration of your current state so that personal steps can actively be taken to create a new story.

Storytelling can help individuals understand reality and also their place in reality. In narrating the story about my experience in this class I was able to better understand the reality that I had created for myself as a student of “Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories”. My self is simply awareness of the set of characteristics that I have called “me”. But, I could change my self by switching the lens that I chose to see myself with. In many ways, my definition of self is similar to Tony Hoagland’s awareness of the way gender identity is constructed in his collection of poems, the Donkey Gospel

 In the beginning, Hoagland was resistant to change but, as time progressed he grew more comfortable with the idea of changing his idea. As Tony Hoagland says in the Donkey Gospel, “Sometimes we think the truth is the worst thing that could happen but the truth is not the worst thing that could happen.” Just as I am beginning to understand aspects of my identity, Tony Hoagland discovered a lot about his personal identity when he analyzed the respect he received because he was a man.  Hoagland is on the track to changing his identity because he is aware of his present condition and is conscious of the power he holds as a man. He chose to hold a different lens up to himself and as a result change his reality by creating different stories then he was expected to write.

Personally, I have made a myriad of personal changes to ensure that I continue to realize new things about myself and my place in reality. For instance, upon deciding where to go to college I was struck with a monumental decision. I could either attend Scripps College or Bryn Mawr College. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to stay close to home or move away from home. Ultimately, I decided to go to Bryn Mawr because I knew I would stretch myself further if I was not close to home. I can now say that I have changed significantly since I have been at Bryn Mawr. I wear a very different set of lenses as a student who is apart of this slice of reality at Bryn Mawr. If I ended up at Scripps I would have developed differently and chosen to wear a different set of lenses.

There is no single definition of the self that applies to everyone because everyone chooses to see reality in different ways and this effects how they see themselves in reality. On top of this, a myriad of people have very different ideas about the areas in which they are willing to push themselves and the boundaries of reality. Unfortunately, truth can never be obtained because there is no such thing as a single truth. There are only multiple truths about reality.  Reality exists in the eye o f the beholder and it’s only limitation is the restrictions artists place on it. An individual must feel free to analyze their identity on their own and hopefully as a result gain a sense of personal satisfaction in the realization of their unique talents.  Observing reality openly and without any restrictions will not be easy but, it will definitely be worth it.