When I started musing last night about the ways favorite a favorite movie unconsciously sneaks into my life, this was quickly followed by another thought: well, if all the stories in the world were Say Anything. . ., X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga, or King Lear, I wouldn’t complain too much. That was a spur of the moment set of associations, but as I tried to improve on the idea — to come up with a more appropriate set of stories — I really couldn’t.

It’s not so much that I’m saying those texts (a movie from the late ’80s, a comic book from the early ’80s, and a play from the seventeenth century) are my favorite stories. They’re not even my favorite movie (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, most days), favorite X-Men comic book (Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men), or favorite Shakespeare play (probably As You Like It). And I haven’t even gotten started on novels (Pride and Prejudice, The Hobbit, Mysteries of Pittsburgh). But as much as I love those texts, they don’t quite go to the heart of the matter.

What I mean when I talk about my three stories is that I feel about them the way I feel about the song “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. I don’t know if I can say that’s my favorite song, and I certainly wouldn’t try to argue it’s the best song I’ve ever heard, even by my own idiosyncratic standards of music (that would be Frank Sinatra singing “I Wish I Were In Love Again”, maybe? or Paul Simon singing “Graceland”?) But there’s not a single thing I can think of that I want a song to do that isn’t in “Badlands”. Affirmation of life in the face of hardship (“It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive”), a chorus you can shout along to, Max Weinberg-the-human-metronome on drums. If I had to take someone who had no idea what a song was, I could play this for them and say, “This is what I mean when I say ‘music,'” I’d have to go with “Badlands.”

In the same vein, I can look at the stories that are what I mean when I say “story.” Say Anything. . ., as I hinted yesterday, is about two people finding each other in a world that discourages meaningful connections, and breaking away from the expectations of the past to build a future together. Dark Phoenix is about facing the power of a hostile universe with the power of love (it’s also about how that doesn’t actually work, but makes us feel like it goddamn well should). And King Lear is about. . .I don’t know, the way small acts of personal rejection and cruelty can escalate into cosmic cruelty and shocking violence? I’ve been a bit obsessed with that one for years and I’m still trying to crack it.

Of course, these stories have this meaning to me. I don’t (and shouldn’t) expect anybody else to get the exact same thing out of them. But for me, these — and all the stories I’ve read — are always there in my head (“this is what I mean by ‘story'”) to bounce against every new text I experience.

I guess everyone has a few of these. I’m curious, then: What are your three stories? Or one or two, whatever — those things that are constantly coming up, as a palimpsest, maybe, or some kind of reflecting surface that new stories always seem to intermingle with? I’m thinking of some kind of equivalent to those archetypes (hero’s journey, etc.) that we’re always hearing about in storytelling classes, but on a more individual level.

I want to know what your stories are! (Or if you don’t do this and you think I’m nuts, tell me that to. I just ask that you don’t use the comments to say why you don’t like my stories, or anyone else’s. Because there are no wrong answers here!)

[ETA: I know this is a complicated question for a spur-of-the-moment, comment-sized answer, so I encourage anybody who wants to steal the meme for their own purposes (or blogs, or whatever). I really would like to know other people’s thoughts on this!]