This Will Be Difficult to Explain and Other Stories

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So the things I tell you become more accessible to me and more memorable to me. Those can be pretty lasting effects. But just as there are consequences to telling, there are consequences to not telling. The path from outside to inside and back out is winding, dark, and full of switchbacks. Once certain stories get embedded into the culture, they become master narratives—blueprints for people to follow when structuring their own stories, for better or worse. That can be a helpful script in that it gives children a sense of the arc of a life, and shows them examples of tentpole events that could happen.

But the downsides of standard narratives have been well-documented—they stigmatize anyone who doesn't follow them to a T, and provide unrealistic expectations of happiness for those who do.

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If this approach were a blueprint for an Ikea desk instead of a life, almost everyone trying to follow it would end up with something wobbly and misshapen, with a few leftover bolts you find under the couch, boding ill for the structural integrity of the thing you built.

And these scripts evolve as culture evolves. Other common narrative structures seen in many cultures today are redemption sequences and contamination sequences. People can also see the larger arc of their lives as redemptive or contaminated, and redemption in particular is a popular, and particularly American, narrative. The redemption story is American optimism—things will get better!

This is actually a good thing a lot of the time. Studies have shown that finding a positive meaning in negative events is linked to a more complex sense of self and greater life satisfaction. And even controlling for general optimism, McAdams and his colleagues found that having more redemption sequences in a life story was still associated with higher well-being. There are things that happen to people that cannot be redeemed. The end. In cases like this, for people who have gone through a lot of trauma, it might be better for them not to autobiographically reason about it at all.

But after other researchers replicated her findings, she got more confident that something was going on. In one study, McLean and her colleagues interviewed adolescents attending a high school for vulnerable students. One subject, Josie, the year-old daughter of a single mother, suffered from drug and alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder, rape, and a suicide attempt.

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She told the researchers that her self-defining memory was that her mother had promised not to have more children, and then broke that promise. Though sometimes autobiographical reasoning can lead to dark thoughts, other times it can help people find meaning. And while you may be able to avoid reasoning about a certain event, it would be pretty hard to leave all the pages of a life story unwritten. But agency sure does. It makes sense, since feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are classic symptoms of depression, that feeling in control would be good for mental health.

Adler did a longitudinal study of 47 adults undergoing therapy, having them write personal narratives and complete mental health assessments over the course of 12 therapy sessions. Agency, agency at all costs. If you have stage 4 cancer, agency may be good for you, but is it a rational choice? But I wondered: Though agency may be good for you, does seeing yourself as a strong protagonist come at a cost to the other characters in your story?

Are there implications for empathy if we see other people as bit players instead of protagonists in their own right? The question, perhaps, is how much people recognize that their agency is not absolute.

According to one study, highly generative people—that is, people who are caring and committed to helping future generations— often tell stories about others who helped them in the past. The more the whole world is designed to work for you, the less you are aware that it is working for you. Even allowing for the fact that people are capable of complex Joyce-ian storytelling, biases, personality differences, or emotions can lead different people to see the same event differently. A lot of false memory research has to do with eyewitness testimony , where it matters a whole lot whether a person is telling a story precisely as it happened.

Any creation of a narrative is a bit of a lie. And some lies have enough truth. Which is interesting, because the storytelling device that seems most incompatible with the realities of actual life is foreshadowing. Metaphors, sure. As college literature class discussion sections taught me, you can see anything as a metaphor if you try hard enough. Motifs, definitely. Forster once wrote.

And it probably is easier to just drop those things as you pull patterns from the chaos, though it may take some readjusting. But Pasupathi rejects that. And so even with the dead ends and wrong turns, people can't stop themselves. She speculates that the reason there's foreshadowing in fiction in the first place is because of this human tendency. For example, a character expresses her guilt over abandoning her daughter in Cleats : "It really was such a shame, the way you could be so careful, and for so long, and then go ahead and undo it all in the end, as though nothing had ever been held together by anything at all.

Of course, there are different schools and types of writing; some writers simply want to provide the reader with story while balancing "self-expression and communication within a group," as Jonathan Franzen notes. Other writers, like Skibsrud, are concerned with making sapient connections and cerebral pursuits. Franzen refers to the second model as the Status model, celebrated by Flaubert, which confers upon itself "a discourse of genius and art-historical importance.

From the Roland Barthes quote at the start of a story titled French Lessons , to the extended analysis of neo-impressionist painter Paul Signac in Signac's Boats , the reader is quickly clued in to the fact that Johanna Skibsrud comes at prose through the headiness of the intellectual, rather than the frank opacity of a storyteller. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters globeandmail.

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Contact us. Log in. Log out. Article text size A. To view your reading history, you must be logged in. Under this visa, each nanny receives an orientation session and is placed in geographical locations near other nannies. No governmental agency is responsible for enforcing contracts. The violation of their human rights is silenced by their invisibility. In addition to low wages, long hours, and lack of privacy and benefits, which are common among live-in conditions, immigrant women experience other abuses.

Changing employers under live-in conditions has always been difficult for workers, but women with employment-based visas have to choose between their legal immigration status and respect for their human rights. They are also unfamiliar with the US legal system. They are excluded from overtime provisions provided in the Fair Labor Standard Act, from the right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively in the National Labor Relations Act, and from regulations in the Occupational Safety and Health Act Smith These conditions reduce mothering to the basic function of economic support. The provision of material goods, financial assistance, and school tuition results in the commodification of family relationships and motherhood.

Children of live-in workers bear the cost of inequalities in the distribution and quality of domestic labor and caregiving. The characterization of nannies and private household workers in The Nanny Diaries reduces the significance of immigrant women in fulfilling childcare needs in the United States, and erases issues of employee rights from the American imagination. Popular culture normalizes the hiring of immigrant women by depicting domestic service as a bridging occupation that offers social mobility, opportunities to learn English, and other cultural skills that assist in the assimilation process.

Employers are classified as good or bad: good employers are benevolent and provide immigrant women with a modernizing experience, while bad employers are rich couples that ignore their children. Popular culture does not contextualize paid reproductive labor. Economic, political, and legal structures surrounding the migration of Latina, Caribbean, and Filipino women are ignored along with the circumstances that relegate their labor to low-wage, dead-end jobs.

This is then passed on to their children. Solutions that improve working conditions for domestic caretakers call for the reconceptualization of these axes. Second, worker protection laws and regulations must be extended to cover all resident workers in the country regardless of immigration or citizenship status.

Current collective organizing efforts have already demonstrated the significance of broadening the Fair Labor Standard Act to include the working conditions of all domestic caretakers. Managing the contradictions of intimacy and vilification of immigrants through cultural images that falsify employee-employer relationships allows Americans to retain a vulnerable labor force unprotected from exploitation while arguing for humanitarian positions. Films such as The Nanny Diaries assist in normalizing privilege and erasing issues of economic injustice.

Our complacency in the subordination of immigrant women is once again maintained by our fascination with chatty gossip on sex, drugs, money, and family values of the wealthy on Park Avenue. Our illusion that there is no greater state of being than being American is further enhanced by denying the privileges gained by social reproduction from Third World labor. Anderson, Bri dget. Doing the Dirty Work?

The Global Politics of Domestic Labour.


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