personal narratives define people

I’ll break down the actual Michael Stone* workshop later in the week in terms of nuts and bolts, but today I am going to talk about narratives.

Stone talked about how our stories distract us and keep us stuck in patterns that no longer serve us or actually inhibit our lives in some way. These internal narratives run on a continual loop that we may be aware of but are just as likely not to notice. In terms of meditation, which was one of the themes of the workshop, our inability to silence/redirect or otherwise reprogram these stories we tell ourselves interferes with our ability to focus on our breathing. On a larger stage, our stories enable us to avoid reality.

An example, my youngest sister, BabySis, exists for the most part in a life that must seem like some waking nightmare to her because I am certain that even she would not have wished for it back when she was sixteen and planning to trap her very first boyfriend by getting pregnant. She saw hearts and flowers and an infant cross between the baby Jesus and a child model in a Pampers commercial. She did not see an alcoholic not too unlike the dad she wanted to escape or living in a double wide on the farm where he would be employed as a diary hand. She didn’t foresee him physically abusing her or her body run down and broken by  a combination of vertebrae scrunching laboring in a nursing home laundry and twenty years of junk food, cigarettes and too many babies.

Her narrative to explain her reality boils down to this …

“Mom and Dad made me give my baby up.”

And with that, she neatly side-steps the truth – which was that our parents told her she needed to live in a home for unwed teen mothers to learn how to be a parent on her own – and she has had a handy emotional bludgeon for purposes of guilting her family into putting up with her behavior for the last couple of decades.

A lot of people carry around the “parents” narrative to explain away their missteps. I taught rooms full of children who are probably still playing the parent card.

Interestingly, the first time I ever looked another person in the eye and told her I was not going to accept her story as the basis for my relationship with someone we both knew, a parent story was playing**.

I skimmed blogs on Valentine’s Day and wasn’t surprised to see the “Valentine’s is bad. Stupid Hallmark holiday.” theme weaving in and out. Anyone unattached by choice or happenstance snarks pretty much the same tired, trite reasons that Valentine’s is trivial and shouldn’t be allowed.

But Valentine’s is just a day on the calendar that carries some historic significance and, at it’s root, is harmless. So what if people wear pink, buy flowers and send cards? Perhaps it is something we should do for no reason as well – acknowledge the people we love in a tangible way, but that shouldn’t invalidate reserving a day for it. Trashing it because one is feeling unfairly left out ? Story. No one is left out who has someone to give to and we can all give.

The first Valentine’s after Will died came two days after I buried him. It was a cold afternoon. Just the sexton, me and Dee and a hole in the ground. I went to school that Valentine’s with treats to give my students, and this was after I’d left a box of baked goodies at Dee’s daycare for the caregivers, who were beyond wonderful to her and I.

All day during the passing periods I saw girls and boys linked together. Flowers. Cards. Candies. And it felt … hopeful. It warmed me up a bit knowing that love existed and was being shared.

I suppose I could have woven a story for myself full of pity and bile, but where the point would have been in it I didn’t know, so I chose to give to those I could and trust that someday I would receive again.

The next Valentine’s I found a box of roses on my doorstop from Rob, as he and I had just begun our romance.

Narratives push us away from paths that can be good, or down alleys that are bad, for us depending on the quality of the story and how much we chose to believe in it.

I wouldn’t say that I am story free or that I can completely resist the temptation to try to enlighten others about their own narratives – though I hope I am getting better with the latter. I do know I am experiencing a period of rewrite.

Rough drafts are being polished or trashed depending and I am scaling back from epics to novellas. I’ll update as necessary.

*Stone’s website offers free downloads of his lectures. Click here.

**It was my sister-in-law. She blames her current mixed up life on her mother. The first time I met this SIL, she rambled on for a good 45 minutes about the evils of her mother. Finally I said, “I like your mother. Your history with her is yours to take up with her, but it doesn’t have anything to do with she and I.”