I have a ramble about stories and storytelling wandering around in my head, but I’m not sure how to start it. I guess I’ll just do my best.
I have been doing therapy work around unpacking and processing childhood trauma. One of the ways I conceptualize this process is that I am re-writing the story of myself. My entire concept of myself is of stories – I don’t think there is a huge difference (if any) between the concept of “me” and the story of me. I am the story I tell about myself. We are all the stories we tell about ourselves.
Jumping a bit (and this is relevant, I swear) – let’s look at the concept of history. When I was young I thought “history” was simply events that happened in the past. But that’s not accurate at all. History is the STORY we tell about the past. Yes, it is about events, but it is also our ideas of which events were important. Who was the good guy, who was the bad guy, how did this event or that event impact who we are now. People who complain about “revisionist history” are missing the point. ALL history is revisionist. As societies grow and change, as our concepts of right and wrong shift and alter, the way we look at history changes as well. This is good and correct – it SHOULD change as we do. So the stories of history change as well, even while the framework of the actual events stays the same.
The stories of ourselves are similar. I look into my past and I choose which events are Important enough to be part of the story that I tell, while other events fall to the wayside. As I grow and change, so too does my story. A villain may become a hero; a hero may become a villain. A memory that used to be connected to shame may change and become connected to pride. The events of my past do not change, but the way I understand the events does.
I firmly believe that this is what stories are supposed to do – all stories. We tell and retell our stories – of ourselves, of our society, of our past, of our myths, of our beliefs, of our ideas, on and on and on – and over time those stories change and change again.
My current favorite example is the Greek story of Persephone and Hades. The story that survives to us is a story of kidnapping, betrayal, and trickery. Within that story, Persephone has little to no agency and is largely a victim. Well, I have been seeing people retelling that story, giving Persephone agency and choice. A story of her falling in love with darkness and choosing to live with Hades. I have also seen people get very angry about this, because that is not the story! Stop adulterating the story! While it’s true that the original story (that we know of, who knows if the story we have is the “original”) is not like that, I actually LOVE the way people are retelling it. I don’t see it as forgetting the original story or romanticizing abuse – I see it that somehow this ancient story is still alive. It still speaks to people, and so we retell it in a way that shows what we love, what we value, what we need in our heroes, how we imagine our dreams ending.
Which brings me to my next point – stories are things that we TELL. Stories are for sharing. This includes the stories that we create about ourselves. We all share our stories of ourselves any time we connect with another person. Yes, it can be literally telling stories of Important Events in our lives, but also in our songs, our fictional stories, our beliefs, our hopes – everything of who we are is part of our story.
And like any other story, it is told collaboratively. People are telling their stories of Persephone to each other, and in each telling it changes. It becomes what people want and need it to be, and collectively people come together to create a story together. When an author writes a book, they share drafts of it, take the feedback and input, and make adjustments. Even with one author, the work has a strong collaborative element.
Humans are interconnected and interdependent. So are our stories. We tell them to and with each other. Every person in my life has contributed to my story. Every person in your life has contributed to yours. The society in which I live shapes my story. The values I grew up with, even if I eventually discarded many of them, shape the Story of Me.
Which means that if I choose to rewrite part of my story, that needs to be done collaboratively too. My story has always featured my own weakness and failure. I am trying to change it into perhaps a story of strength and survival, but the basic fact is that I can’t make those changes alone. The version of my story that was written when I was young got its start before I even took ownership of my story. Before I was even able to create my own story at all. I was handed a story of my own inadequacies when I was far too young to even realize it was possible to choose a different story.
So that is what I am trying to do. And while yes, I am the author, like any author it is not a task I can undertake alone. Why would I even want to?
Stories are important.
Stories are collaborative.
Stories are Us.