The Story Of My Life

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”

Helen Keller, The Story of My Life

This was a frequent phrase around my home growing up: “Holy Moly, story of my life”. If I got a collections letter in the mail, or I hear that a great guy has a secret wife, that my brand new shiny car needs a transmission or that in fact I really didn’t win the lottery after all…” story of my life”.   A handy phrase to describe something quite familiar. But what’s in a phrase?

We each have one story that repeats itself over and over again throughout our lifetime. It is like we got handed a script upon leaving heaven and incarnating that acts like a blueprint for our lives.  I promise you, one central ever-present and every changing “story of our lives”. The casts of characters change but they fundamentally play the same role in our lives, year after year. Every new love, new boss or new dog is just like a mother, brother, father, betrayer, helper, teacher and is the best of ourselves or the worst of ourselves. The place, the reasons, the motives, the fears, and the outcomes seem to remain similar as well.

So, if you were to just pluck out of the sky a scenario that you recognize as so familiar that it is a “repeat story” in your life, what would it be? Would the themes be endless hope, deep despair, betrayal, running away, lost love and fighting for what is right, or would it be, men leave, women love you but die, or maybe the all too often, am I good enough, can I prove myself, or that there is never enough money or time or money or love or money or food, nourishment or support?  Could you be in Groundhog Day like Bill Murray where over or over again you love the wrong person, you lose everything you have and need to start again, you never feel smart enough or have enough, or ultimately are loved enough? Does the white knight turn into the villain or are you the one who rescues and heals the world? We all have one story.  The trick is identifying what the story is.

If we take the time to identify this story, which repeats itself over and over again for our learning and growth, then we have abundant power to change the story, but not before we look it square in the eye and say “Yes” this is MY story. For most authors who are seized with a story line and write until the days are a blur and who forget to eat or take a shower, most likely the book or story being written is a mirror of the writer’s psyche.  The soul gets wind that there is a supreme opportunity to work out some kinks in life if only the writer would hop too it and let it rip, fantasy or no fantasy.

Most writers have to cop to the fact that writing is therapy. Writing is sanity. Expiation. Transformation and atonement. Most writers on a good and honest day will say that the story they think is pure fantasy is really from their own life, their own fear, their own desire to be a hero or heroine and to rewrite what went so wrong, so long ago. It is a powerful moment when you can write a fictitious character that is not you in reality, so that this character can do all the things that you only wish to have done or said or experienced in your life. Why else do we write?

And when we can fess up that our own story is driving the bus, we can not only heal our lives but we can write a story that touches the collective nerve. That is what makes a bestseller.

In the end….the story will write you.

 

The Stalker

Stalker

If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”

—Barry Lopez
(as Badger, in Crow and Weasel)

Since starting this blog this past week,  I have been inundated with emails. And, as you can imagine, people were sharing that there was a story to be told, a story that no one knew, a story that scared them, would unravel their family or the worst of all…a story that the writer was afraid would be….boring. How many of us tell ourselves every day that our story is not interesting enough, or that “no one would want to hear about MY life”?

Well, I’m here to say that fear to tell your story, since you are certain it will be a snoozer…is a cop out.  And the second thing I am here to tell you is …you are not telling the story for someone else. You are telling your story for you, your health, your liberation, to find the humor in the tragedy and to simply honor that it is in fact the story you were born to live. Telling our stories is a sign of respect and self-love. And in the end how you share it is up to you.

So, now that we are looking at the obstacles to recording, writing, filming, painting your stories we want to take a peek at why in the world you would want to tall a story that is a secret or is only garnishing the pages of your journals, filling the boxes of photos you have kept for the entire family for a lifetime or is a story that is just being ignored.

The answer is, because we were all born to tell the stories we have been given and entrusted with and because the story is an entity with life and breath and who needs to be released to a life outside your mind and body and heart. Why? So that we all can be challenged, changed and healed. Story is your medicine and your story is someone else’s medicine in this world as well.

And, I am going to bet that many of you feel like your story haunts you, chasing you in your dream life, nudging you awake, making you want to write down ideas while driving or washing the dishes. Right?  Your stories are relentless stalkers.

“Australian Aborigines say that the big stories—the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life—are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators, hunting their prey in the bush.”

—Robert Moss, Dreamgates

Real quick, lets just strip away the thoughts that keep us from breathing life into our stories. Thoughts about fear are simply walls between the mind and our heart. We keep these walls of fear up so we don’t have to feel what is on the other side of the imagined fear.  Took me three decades as a psychologist to get that one.

stalking cartoon

Lets look at the top three fears and just exorcise them, like taking off a Band-aid: Fast and then put some ointment on it and go about living and writing or speaking your story. What are the top reasons you may not be telling your story? We will get the biggest one out-of-the-way first,

I am not a good writer”.  Answer.  No one is and they learn to be.

I will be embarrassed.”   Many people are embarrassed to tell their real story. Did anyone see the excruciating and amazing film version of the book, August: In Osage County, with Meryl Streep? This Pulitzer Prize winning story was semi-autobiographical and cut to the jugular of our culture. And you can bet the writing of it was no picnic for Tracy Letts. When you open up the windows to your soul and share your inner secret struggles and how you overcame the demons of fear, self-doubt, inadequacy, bad decisions, personal failures and weaknesses you gain the respect of everyone just like you…which is…. everyone.

“The truth will come out and offend people.”  Many people are afraid to tell the truth because they don’t want to offend others.  People wait until a family member passes away before they are willing to tell the true story of their childhood.  It might be an ex-spouse they are afraid will contradict their story or concern about a child, a college buddy or a colleague. We are afraid people will lose respect for us when we tell the truth, blow the whistle on family or friends, when actually the opposite is true.  The important thing is not to let fear stop you from telling your story.  The world needs to hear your story, and you are the only one who can tell it.

And, the heavy hitters as writers in our culture are never immune to doubt and fear. This is what a few of them have to say:

“For me, putting my work out there is a risk, and it can be scary.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Maya Angelou

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

Stephen King

“My post-memoir mental state is a mixture of euphoria, disbelief, accomplishment, confusion, titillation, exhaustion and shame.”  Tom Robbins

All good writers started somewhere and in most cases if their knees were not knocking then someone should have poked them with a “pen” to see if they were still alive. We all quake at the first leap into the unknown. And for those of us who now write as a way of life we can tell you two things are true: First, that with every leap, which is usually every day you sit down to write or paint or speak, you act as if you have never leapt before and panic. Second, half way down after you have jumped, some illusive parachute opens over head and breaks the fall, allowing you to run headlong into the unknown without too many bruises.

I think they call this…Grace.

jump off cliff