Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Stories We Tell

I warned you I have lots of hats, right?
(Which has nothing to do with this post.)
- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

Note: Apparently we MMWs this week really needed reminders that we are heroes in our own stories, because here I am adding another one. I hope I can add something to the already wonderful conversation started by Ashley/Jessica and Kasey.

Many moons ago, I was a BYU undergrad taking an amazing memoir-writing class.* Our final project was to write a 15ish-page memoir to workshop with the entire class. Those last days of class before we turned in final revisions were intense as we read and critiqued one another’s stories.

These people looked like your average students, people you’d pass on the sidewalk or at church and never think twice about. But so many of their memoirs were filled with terrible struggles: debilitating illness, child abuse, bulimia, addiction**—more struggles than you would ever guess, because they were buried, deep and dark, in secret places.

With the hurt, the failure, the agony, though, there was passion and courage and bravery. I remember looking at my classmates with new eyes. They were amazing. They had conquered so much. It was incredible to be among them. And it seemed to me that they felt it too—the knowledge that they had won through.

I don’t think I really grasped the power of that experience until a few years later when, as a marriage and family therapy grad student, I was studying narrative therapy. In essence, narrative therapy involves learning to see yourself as the hero of your own story.*** In writing our memoirs, taking a step back from the experience and looking at it more objectively, we saw ourselves a different way. We were no longer the victims of our stories, but survivors—or even better, heroes.

Now, I write fairy tale-esque fantasy, and as anyone who has read “Rumpelstiltskin” knows, words and names have power. What we call ourselves has power—even to influence who we are and who we become. There is a power in storytelling, a power that goes beyond just the words of the story. We make meaning of the world around us by the stories that we tell, both about the world and about ourselves.

There have been times when I “wrote” my story as a hero and times I “wrote” myself as a victim or a passive observer. Guess which times I felt happier, stronger, more capable?

It doesn’t just work with writing longer memoirs. It works with our thoughts, with our journal entries, with our blog posts, our Facebook updates, our tweets. Every word we write, wherever it is, contributes to the story we tell, which changes the stories we’ll tell in the future. We shape the past, the present, and the future with our words.

* Taught by Louise and Tom Plummer, who I can only hope to be like when I grow up. Gracious, funny, willing to own up to all their faults—and their strengths. And perfectly happy to be curmudgeonly when it suited them.
** These are examples of the types of issues people wrote about, not the actual issues. I still abide by our classroom rule of confidentiality. Sure, it’s great to deal with your problems, but no one else should be revealing them for you.
*** Actual narrative therapists out there, please don’t send me hate mail; I do know I’m oversimplifying.


  1. Love this!! I think it’s a great trend we had going this week. ;-)

  2. Well written. Good for us all to hear. Thanks.

  3. I liked this idea a lot...stepping outside of our lives, how would we write about ourselves as the hero of our own story? An interesting thought and a lovely read :)

  4. I know a lot of people struggle with their inner dialogue. I truly believe it has a huge effect when we keep those thoughts positive and encouraging.

  5. As always, well said, and great stuff to think about!



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