While most of us prefer to think that reality is fixed and we all see the same reality, numerous scholars have argued and demonstrated that in fact, reality is shifting. What is real for me may not be real for you. We have all experienced this when we share a story about something that happened in a group and someone else interjects, that’s not what happened! What did in fact happen? That question is harder to answer than we like to admit.
The Hour of Daydreams is a story of a reality that was mixed with cultural beliefs and norms, myth and fantasy, and a desire for reality to be better than the truth. It is a folktale origin story and retelling, but it is deeper than that. The Hour of Daydreams speaks to this deep need to shape reality to match it to a world we need to live in in order to cope with tragedy, trauma, and loss and to create meaning out of suffering. This routinely happens throughout the world, in varying degrees and success, depending on the individual and the culture in which they live. Through reading The Hour of Daydreams, we glimpse how this might have played out to form one Filipino folktale and gain a deeper understanding of Filipino culture.
Myths, folktales, fairytales, and origin stories have been created since the beginning of human history as a way to understand, make sense of, and find meaning in an often chaotic and cruel world. They provide a frame of reference for an entire culture on how to perceive the world. Thus understanding these stories helps us better understand and relate to another culture as it gives us a glimpse into that frame the way not much else can. Those frames of reference are deeply impactful and can greatly shape actions, thoughts, and beliefs making it vital to understand them if we want to understand a people better.
All of this academic discussion is to provide a frame around why I spent so many days after reading The Hour of Daydreams thinking about the concept of reality and how individuals can sometimes vary so incredibly in their understanding of an event, a concept, or even life. Particularly when one has to cope with trauma, especially complex trauma and horrific trauma, reality becomes a tricky thing, but not just for the victims of trauma, but also those around them. People generally want to have control over the circumstances of their lives and when confronted with the possibility that they may not have the level of control they convince themselves they do, they can create alternative realities and it can leave the people left to face the true reality of said trauma to feel very alone.
While reality gets shifty around trauma since trauma is such a significant and devastating event, reality does not only get shifty after trauma; alternate realities emerge around any situation in which people feel like they have less control than they want over life. This is poignant for me as my health has deteriorated over the last few years. One of the most striking examples centers around how this all started. I sustained a minor stress fracture to my foot while walking my dog and developed a severe pain condition from that one small injury. While I was on crutches non-weight bearing, I rode in a lot of cabs and Ubers and on those journeys, drivers would ask me about my obvious injury. As I explained how a very minor injury triggered one of the worst pain conditions rated on the McGill pain index, drivers would sometimes visibly shut down. They would then try to come up with explanations, justifications, or treatments to explain away my situation. It must be something else; if you just tried this treatment; or there must be something about you which makes your situation unique. These people were unable to tolerate a world in which they at any moment could sustain a minor injury and have their lives change so drastically. I have found over and over again throughout the last several years that it is incredibly hard for people to be vulnerable enough to sit with the discomfort of the knowledge that they have limited control over their lives. I am no stranger to the inability to sit with this discomfort. But when the people around me create an alternate reality in which such an event could only happen to me and not to them or is my fault, it feels isolating and shaming.
I wonder how Tala felt having those around her, but particularly her husband, create a fantastical story about her origins instead of sitting with the discomfort of her reality. It must have felt isolating and lonely. I understand why she spent so much time with her sisters as they were the only ones who believed her truth and lived in her reality. I understand why she left her family instead of staying with them to confront the difficulties which were about to befall her. Their inability to live in her reality meant that she did not feel supported enough to ask for their help. She felt she had to resolve it on her own. It is a tragedy all in and of itself.
This is why the story impacted me so deeply. I know that hurt and loss. I know what it is to have the truth denied by the ones we love and I know how suffocating that can be. I have lived Tala’s pain, even though she is of a different time and culture and my loved ones have not created a fantastical folktale to explain my circumstances. Those differences do not matter. We all have times when we speak the same language even though there are vast differences. While reading this story, I felt less alone. I did not want Tala’s story to end. I wanted as much time with her as possible. There is so much beauty in her story, it was hard to let it go. But alas, her reality was no more my reality than anyone’s reality is mine and it was time for her story to end, but I will carry her story in my heart for a long time to come.