Denouement: Thoughts on telling one’s own story

5,000 words later. That was a fascinating experience for me: shaping four of the most intense years of my life into something like a coherent narrative.

That really is the story I tell myself about those years. It’s fascinating to see it written down, see what I choose to include and omit. I wonder what my friends would say. That might scare me as much as having you read it.

It’s a different kind of editing. And in this sense, probably we’re all editors.

I’ve heard novelists and psychologists and sociologists talk about how we all have narratives we tell ourselves.

Stories about where we came from. About those moments when we followed a path someone else might not have. Made a decision that shaped us, or seemed to say something important about who we are.

When I started to lose weight, I had a story I told myself: My mother had always said that my father had been overweight… but Dad decided to lose the weight, and so he did.

Most people can’t lose weight and keep it off. But that story put the wind at my back. It really helped.

I don’t know why. Maybe I thought I was genetically predisposed to succeed. Maybe I thought I’d absorbed something from him about how to do it. Maybe I just wanted to live up to his accomplishment. But I know for sure it mattered.

I still don’t know how much weight he lost. If I’d found out it was only 10 or 20 pounds, I doubt if I could’ve ever lost 70.

I wonder what your personal narrative is about yourself. No, that’s not a question for you to answer here! At least not yet, I wouldn’t think. That’s a question to ask over a lifetime.

I wonder if it’s good or bad to surface one’s own narrative — one’s own personal myth, so to speak. Does it do the same job if you’re paying attention to it? Or does it seem more self-consciously selective and partial?

My first reaction reading my own tale is that I’ve made it even more powerful in my own life. That’s my “official story” now. It’s not just fluid memories anymore, it’s written down.

At some point, the Iliad transitioned from a story recited by bards at campfires, to a book with a “correct” canonical text. I don’t have a personal Iliad, I wasn’t in a war. But that was the time in my life when I came closest to having a band of brothers sharing a common cause.

If I’m tempted to change my story later (say if I ever have grandkids) I’ll have to ask myself why. I don’t think I’ll give myself the luxury that partisan political commentators take — of completely ignoring what they said last year, as if nobody remembers.

Of course there’s also the question: can we even surface our personal narratives? Or is there a deeper one underneath that I’m still not aware of?

Happy July 4th, Matt! (Countries have narratives too, heaven knows.)

Write back (on any subject of your choice! Do not feel obliged to take on my massive explosion of verbiage. <grin>)



Update: OK, it bothered me that I said “I wonder what your personal narrative is about yourself. No, that’s not a question for you to answer here! At least not yet, I wouldn’t think. That’s a question to ask over a lifetime.”

What I meant to say was: you don’t have to have one, and if you do, I don’t expect you to cough it up right here and now.

I realize I already had one when I was 16. Only problem, it wasn’t mine. It was his:

Curt Lockers





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