Sunday, December 20, 2015

The power of personal story

I’m working with my friend Pat LaPointe to develop a workshop curriculum for women writers, tentatively titled Life in Transition. The project has caused me to reflect on the power of words, especially the power of personal story.

Christina Baldwin, author, journal keeper, and teacher, states in her book Storycatcher: “Writing organizes the mind and the actions that lead from the mind. Over time, the decisions and choices we make in the rush of the moment are informed by the self-knowledge our story gives us. We learn that if we practiced articulating our story, if we have honored the path to this moment of writing it down, the choices we make are congruent with who we are. That is one of the primary promises of story—we live it twice: once in the experience, and again in the recording and reflecting upon our experience.”

Think about your family: who was the brightest, who was the troublemaker, the quiet one, the stubborn one, the peacemaker, the artist, the nurturer, the lost one? As children, we’re under the dominion of adults who begin to shape us by telling us we have our grandmother’s eyes, our dad’s curly hair, our uncle’s temperament… the list goes on. But as we grow into adolescence, we begin to differentiate ourselves from our family’s view of us. We try on various personas out of curiosity to see if there’s a better fit. 

I have a friend who was painfully shy as a girl, but when she got to high school, she decided she was going to shed that role and abandon her shell. She joined every school club she could fit into her schedule, and from a secure cocoon, she emerged a social butterfly. How cool is that? The point is, our fates are not necessarily determined by the dictates of our familly.  

It is written that God gives us free will, so we are (at least) co-creators of our life’s plotline. We have choices regarding the outcome of the twists and turns of our lives. Paying attention to the choices we have in life gives us the ability to be intentional and to live out loud.

A woman’s life has four distinct transitional points: girlhood, adolescence, womanhood, and elderhood. Menses heralds adolescence, and menopause announces elderhood. Each stage impacts our story, for our roles change as we leave one stage and enter another. Do we have any say in how our story develops? Of course we do. Each of us is the author of her life story. 

Pat and I are developing a program that gives you an outline of what your personal story may look like—but while our journeys may be similar, the details are unique to each of us, and it’s in the details that a story’s richness is found. In a journal, it is raw and unleashed and instructive. When it is shared, it is powerful, both for the writer and the reader/listener.