There’s an excellent short documentary on the Atlantic right now (15 minutes and well worth your time).
Directed by Jay Cheel, An Urban Legend is Born examines the likelihood that in 1996 a tornado ripped through a drive in theatre near Niagara Falls Ontario while the film Twister was playing. It’s such a fantastic and implausible story, complete with drama and urgency that it’s been retold over and over, including by the local paper.
Trouble is, the reality of the event is slightly different. Staff working at the drive-in that night say the screens were dark due to power outages when the tornado hit. So Helen Hunt’s big screen face probably wasn’t being ripped in half by fierce winds as many locals claim to have witnessed.
I find this fascinating. How our brains focus in on one part of an experience and that becomes the story. With repetition, it becomes fact in our mind. Rebecca Solnit says “We live and die by stories,” and Joan Didion famously quipped: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
Much of what motivates me to write is this curiosity. What separates myth from fact and which one has more merit? We live in a world of constant information yet we’re starving for stories that give us hope, wonder, and delight. I don’t have a ready answer for this question. If anything, it takes me deeper into mystery and that’s a beautiful place to be.
As I lean further into telling the stories of others, I’ll be mindful of this. There are truths of the heart that may run counter to the facts of the moment. But what a wonderful facet of the human experience to explore. I’m profoundly grateful for all the stories I get to tell.