Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Stories I Tell Myself

I tell stories about things that have happened to me. I tell these stories to other people. I have short versions and long versions of my stories.

The stories range from funny to banal to extremely sad. This is the stuff my life is made of.

There are the stories I write. There are the stories I tell. There are the stories I don't write or tell but carry.

All three kinds of stories help me make sense of my life. They give it a narrative. They infuse it with something.

This is true for you too.

I think about the stories. Not the details. Not who survived, who died, who taught me by teaching, who taught me by betrayal, who helped raise me, who might have helped but didn't.

I don't think about the places I've lived, apartments still the same in my mind's eye. I don't think about 1993. I'm not thinking of the words that lifted me up and the words that still smart.

I think about the telling of stories and the story of stories.

These stories belong to me. I take ownership of them. Your stories are yours.

Feeling a deep attachment to the stories we tell ourselves is natural.

But now I think beyond that.

I think about the stories that are in my mind - especially those. There are some old stories.

I step outside of myself. What if the story of what happened is told a different way? What if Joyce Carol Oates told my story instead of me? Annie Dillard, Jane Smiley, Anne Lamott, Mary Karr?

Would they come to different conclusions? Imbue it with different meanings? They could skip over certain parts and turn the focus on others. I'm not saying they'd make stuff up. Their truth would just be different. The truth would be the truth through their lens.

What if Raymond Carver, Frank McCourt or JD Salinger weren't dead? Jodi Picoult would have a field day with some stuff that's happened to me.

Someone else might spend a page and a half describing the art on the walls the day I met Jeremy for the first time. Sure, I noticed the art.  But the way I remember it was that I was wearing a red and white striped double front and back V-neck shirt and this cute tall guy came over to say hi with a really big smile.

I also wonder how non-writers would tell this story or that.

I think about myself in the third person sometimes. Something crappy will happen. But then I'll work with that construct. I'll come up with some other way of looking at it. Social workers call this process re-framing. I'm good at it now.

I help others do that with their stories. Somebody says I screwed up. I say, no you didn't. You did great considering the hurricane, the diagnosis, the divorce. For the love of god. You were 14 years old and no one was minding you.

Sometimes, I'd like to write someone else's story my own way. Let's say you're telling a story. There's pathos. There's tragedy. There's betrayal. There are circumstances that work against you at every turn.

I can't tell you this. But I don't see it the same way.

If he hadn't left, you wouldn't be with this guy. If you weren't fired, shown the door, made to pack your desk in a cardboard box, you would have never started your own business. You can't play basketball anymore but you were accepted to graduate school. You were no Michael Jordan anyway.

The one that got away is the one that got away. This is the house you're supposed to live in. This is the child meant for you. The music business would have eaten you alive.

This isn't the life you planned. I've gone ahead and re-framed it. From where I sit it's looking pretty good.

Maybe you're in the middle of it. Live your way into different treatments of this material that is your life. Know that you don't know precisely where this is going, but try things on for size.

Sometimes things happen to you that are so bad that there's nothing to say except I'm sorry. There's no re-framing. I've got nothing.

There's this other thing that happens.  You tell me a story. The telling is sculptural in that you recount it from different sides. It's complex. It sparkles. Raconteur is the wrong word for what you are. Artist seems right.

You hold me rapt in the perfection of your narrative.  I eat out of the palm of your hand. I wouldn't change a thing. You should write a book, if you haven't already.

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