Everyone has a story to tell, a story that yearns to be written.
We hear it in the gusting of the winds, the falling of the rain, the splash of the shower and in the space between wakefulness and sleep. We’ve all lived through powerful experiences and made it out the other side. Whether they were triumphant or tragic, heroic, depressing or discomfiting, they’re over now, but as you think back, the details begin to take form: the colors, scents and textures of that particular time and place. You begin to recall the things you said and you want to tell your story, no, you need to tell your story so you can unburden your soul and feel lighter and more at ease in your body and in your heart. So why don’t you just sit down and write?
There are a slew of reasons why we don’t just get on with it. We
don’t want to upset someone with what we have to say. We feel ashamed of something that we did. We can’t remember parts of what happened so we’re afraid we won’t finish what we started. These are all legitimate concerns but at the top of most people’s list of reasons to avoid the blank page is fear of mediocrity. Fear of getting it wrong and being judged for what we did. Fear of being
embarrassed. Fear of being maudlin or unintelligent or being considered a waste of people’s time. I’ve battled all of those emotions during my career, but from what I’ve seen, when people set out to do anything creative, it often starts so poorly, mediocrity can be a step up.
During Covid, when I was sorting through piles of unconsciousness that were lying around my house, an object I found or a random
thought triggered an unexpected memory. That started me writing and as I did, I began to recognize life patterns that had formed me, magnetized me, repelled me and ultimately shaped me into the person I had become. I saw that I’d lived a full life and while I was proud of my victories, the races I won and the rewards I earned, I tried to forgive myself for my failures and losses, for the times I allowed people to abuse me, physically and emotionally, for the times I abused myself and my unconscious actions that led to heartache and disappointment.
Finally, I had to accept the fact that my choices, good or bad, and the lessons they had taught me belonged to me. As I sat at the
computer to tell my stories that made me who I am today, I was amazed at what emerged from my consciousness, stories that I thought I had hidden away. Maybe I had forgotten about them or maybe I had stashed them somewhere safe until I had enough strength at my foundation to relive them. Whatever the truth was, as
they showed up, I wrote them down and each chapter became a story of its own, a tile in the mosaic that reflected my life.
The Native American culture is known for its rich oral traditions. Instead of using a written language to document their history, they use vivid narratives to educate the younger generations. In this way, they breathe life into their tribal culture and they entertain their people. When they were forcibly relocated to land that was not their own, they depended on storytelling to remain connected to their
ancestry and their way of life.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a Mexican Jungian psychoanalyst, who wrote “Women Who Run With the Wolves,” a blockbuster bestseller, is a consummate story teller. She uses metaphors and myths, folk tales and and fairy tales to bring to light her particular teachings. She says, “Stories are medicine. I’ve been taken with them since I heard my first. They have such power; they do not require that we do, be, act, anything — we need only listen.”
“Tell me a story,” children say before they go to bed. As a child, I cherished my favorite books, “The Secret Garden” and “Charlotte’s Web,” and I saw life as stories that I could treasure and become a part of them. Now, as an adult I value story telling way more than long and boring statistics and dry explanations. More than once, I’ve read through one of my chapters, decided it was too tedious, scrapped it and started over as story teller, not an academic who wanted to teach somebody something. In that same spirit, I encourage my students to use stories to drop into the center of their emotions and ideas and utilize the things that have happened to them as a way to grow and learn.
When I feel lonely, uncomfortable and untalented, I try to think of my writing as a sacred calling. I feel the rhythm of the words and it becomes a meditation. The texture of the keyboard. The click of the mouse. The punching of the keys. The flow of the paragraphs. The memories that come to light without my doing anything to retrieve them.
I remind myself to stop thinking about excellence, being prolific or penning fancy phrases. I just write, plain and simple, a story flows out in all its glory and I am amazed at the beauty, creativity and inspiration that lives deep inside of me. I really had no idea.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
– – Maya Angelou