Thursday, 27 June 2019

'The Second Narrative' - a tanka prose piece

I pour the tea ...
long ago I learned
the fragrance of cured leaves
fills the hollow spaces of hurt
with more warmth than words can

Pots of tea-and-tears later, my good friend wipes her eyes, blows her nose, gives me a hug, shrugs and whispers – resignedly – “what can ya do” ... before we say our good-byes and she leaves.  She is going through something, in her job, I have seen so many times, that I have given it a name:  ''The Second Narrative'.

Nothing in all my years of reading and education and spiritual exploration and relationships, has prepared me for 'The Second Narrative'.  I was not provided with guidelines on how to fight it, nor steps on how to cope with the anguish that accompanies it.  And yet, it has darkened many of the days of my life, and the lives of those I care about.  Like the annual flu bug, it can be almost impossible to completely avoid ... and, lately, there seems to be a particularly virulent strain going around.

In all facets of living, there is, of course: that which is real.  Things unfold and proceed in a manner that most reasonable, stable people – without a personal agenda – would agree on.  I call this 'The Narrative' of the story.  Sadly, all too often, one of the characters in the story is not pleased with the narrative.  They want a legend – and they want to be the star of the legend.  Unfortunately, in order for that to happen, the plot has got to change.  There's got to be a 'Second Narrative'.

In my experience, whenever, there is someone who sets their sites on something that they can't get at – fairly – there is always a 'Second Narrative'.  It is created by individuals who have aspects to their psyche that equip them, splendidly, for the task.  Though often superficially charming, these are very egocentric people.  It's all about them ... always.  They are greedy.  They are conniving.  They have an exalted sense of entitlement.  And they have little-or-no sensitivity to the feelings of others. Hence, the 'The Second Narrative' generally entails casting doubt on the legitimacy of anyone who is in the way of what the manipulator wants.  This typically involves an arsenal of behind-the-back eye rolls and sighs and head shakes – as well as a myriad of highly interpretive, fuzzy equivocations, such as 'rigid' or 'out-of-step'. 

Manipulators, I have found, are linguistic savants.  They are masters of nuance.  They can turn a pro into a con, faster than they can dot their 'i'.  Wherever you find them, they are there to promote themselves.  It is all they have ever done and they are very good at it.  In work places ... in families ... in politics ... they know who can give them what it is that they want, and apply themselves ... shamelessly, if need be ... to the task of winning them over.

Alas, the 'Second Narrative' works.  It works really well.  Unlike the 'First Narrative', 'The Second Narrative' runs on the fuel of grandiosity.  Hence, it gets a lot more 'air-time' than the 'First Narrative' ... The Real Story.  A skilfully rendered 'Second Narrative' will contain, little beads of truth, conferring upon it a speckled splash of veracity, so that, by the time, a minor player in the 'First Narrative' smells a rat, it is usually far too late, to undo the damage ... 'The Second Narrative' is fixed and loosely adorned with carefully selected fact-ish tidbits.  At that point, any defence a minor player attempts to mount, is interpreted as divisive and ... well ... defensive.

It is late in the day. Soon the sun will begin to set. I turn on some light dinner music ...

glancing from my window
up into the still blue sky

... why-oh-why-oh-why-oh-why ...

do we make each other
so unhappy

photo: I pour the tea - W. Bourke

© 2019 Wendy Bourke 


  1. Oh for the fragrance of those cured leaves to fill us with warmth! And, alas, it is hard to fight against people who have a 'second narrative,' as they are able to twist the truth so well. It is really frightening, especially since one is not used to dealing with this kind of person! Reminds me of many we are up against in politics at the moment. Oh - for the fragrance of those cured leaves!

  2. Such an interesting piece - I loved the mix of poetry and prose

  3. Perfectly observed and described. (Oh yes, I have seen this too!)

  4. You have a keen eye and some of the biggest life stories certainly have twists in the plots. It comes down to the second narrative and the bigger agenda. How many will believe his manipulative story-line?

    I am thankful for tea to fill the hollow spaces of hurt.

  5. I feel for your friend.....and all of us who are reeling from the damage such a con man is wreaking south of the border. I love the tea and sympathy. Tea tastes better in fancy teacups. A wonderful read, Wendy.

  6. What a lovely write Wendy. Clearly, you are a keen observer of personalities. You describe the narcissist, manipulator perfectly. How sad that we can all identify at least one of those in our lives.

  7. Few things are as destructive or life-sucking as a senseless liar, a rotter of good. I suspect your company and understanding is just the right brew to soothe some of her hurts.

  8. One of my best friends and I regularly get together over tea and discuss the Narcissist In Chief who is a master of weaving that Second Narrative. I've run afoul of a few who are pretty good at it in everyday life and been mostly lucky that the damage they caused could be repaired. But I've seen friends really hit hard by it. Your friend is lucky to have your listening ear and cupfuls of understanding.

  9. The empathy in this is healing while the anger is still there, the coals beneath the tea. It's difficult to be a good ear.

  10. I am amazed how often we follow that second narrative even if we know better... maybe there is a comfort in being compliant. The first narrative of telling the world that the emperor is naked until you reach the tipping point. I am positive though realizing that sooner or later many of them falls to the bottom.

  11. This is incredibly deep and philosophical, Wendy!💜 A poem to hold dear and cherish 😊

  12. Bullies who want their own way who will crush you if you see a problem or a better way. Sounds like normal work practice which sadly I too have experienced.