The Universe is made of stories…

My last post was about David McCabe, author of the book, Without Sin. When he lectured at the California Writers Club he quoted a line from a poem by Muriel Rukeyser:

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

What a great line.

Mr. McCabe sees the world as a physicist would, using disparate stories to formulate a base element—his personal narrative.  As a teacher, McCabe worked with an unusual group of kids, the “dreamers.” Dreamers are high achievers, would-be college students who learn about their illegal resident status in one of two ways; often it is a family secret and everyone is raised in fear of deportation, or the kids discover they’re undocumented, illegal aliens when they are sixteen, preparing for a drivers license or employment, and in need of a birth certificate. Either way, the kids pay the price for their parent’s decisions.

When Mr. McCabe was promoted into college administration he researched the latest trends in education. One paper from San Diego State University stated that student narcissism is at an all time high. He was trying to raise awareness about educational opportunities for undocumented students. In fact, he’d like them all to become activists but in the face of student apathy how could he reach them?

It is not just students that are intractable. People have three reactions to difficult social topics. If it is too uncomfortable, or seemingly unimportant, the topic is avoided. Alternatively, there’s a mindset that some problems are so endemic they need better law enforcement and there is nothing to be done except to let lawbreakers get what they deserve. Finally, if a story is compelling, or an individual face is identified in connection to a social problem, it encourages discussion and proposals to change parameters.

For example, think about amnesty for illegal immigrants. It is a polarizing topic. McCabe’s own mother was not in favor of offering children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. She changed her mind when she befriended a vivacious, American sounding student who did odd jobs and volunteer work but who could not legally work or go to college because she was a “dreamer.”

If amnesty, a widely debated topic, is so hard to broach, how could McCabe inform society, especially the younger generation, about the dangers of exploitation, sometimes as serious as entrapment that leads to human trafficking?

Mr. McCabe created a personal narrative out of these seemingly random stories. His sensitivity towards migrants and students, his discovery of an article about human trafficking,  professional research and his curiosity, coalesced into a trajectory that powers his actions. He wrote “Without Sin” hoping to elicit common interest.

That, dear writer, is how the universe expands, by launching a story informed by a personal narrative. David McCabe used artistic license to move people into a new conversation. After McCabe’s lecture, I sought other opinions and shared the story on my blog. My small contribution to a community narrative. But who knows? McCabe argues that if a story changes the universe then it’s possible to change our academics, our legal institutions and the attitude of whole nations.


About jkConibear

Judy is from neither here, nor there, but those places in between. She is a cross-cultural writer whose works are unified by themes of identity and belonging. She escapes her suburban life by typing up stories, much to the dismay of her starving family.

Posted on April 13, 2014, in Article, Stories, Writing Craft and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. What a well written article on a topic still largely undiscussed. Thanks for bringing it to light!

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