Recently, I was talking with a new friend about the Amy Winehouse documentary and how it had affected me, and she asked, "But would we care about these stories if they weren't those of famous people?". My answer was immediate, "Yes, unequivocally".
I already do.
All of my days are narrated by stories; you could pay me in them. My favourite podcasts are the stories of ordinary people; my favourite genre of writing is always a variation of how our personal stories intersect with the themes of the wider world: personal essays, creative non-fiction, memoirs. I am interested in how people make poetry out of the everyday. I like fiction too, but I spend at least some of the time imagining the author creating the story, looking for traces of them in the way they describe the small, easily forgotten things.
I wish sometimes that I belonged to a culture where stories were more prized. As a species, humans are storytellers, but there are some of us who have a strong tradition of oral storytelling, and these stories are passed down as warnings and lessons and comfort. My family has stories, but we were not close enough for our shared memories to have even similar themes; it feels sometimes as if we grew up in different houses. Which I suppose is true for a lot of our experiences...and that's why reframing our memories into narrative is so important.
I do not trust my private stories as much as my public ones.
Danielle Laporte wrote recently that the "body knows before the mind does". This has been true for me. Recently, I received a phone call with news that I did not want to hear. At first, I had that constricting pain that makes your heart feel as if it may stop, but immediately after that, my body recalibrated, settled back into my power, said "This will not be the breaking of me". It was only after I had hung up the phone and began to share the news with other people, to hear their stories and to create my own, that the pain came to stay. I invited it with my stories. As long as I was performing that story for myself, the pain was allowed to wreak havoc on me. And because I felt it, I believed that the story must be true.
It was not -- at least not the version of truth I had to build my foundations on. So I stopped telling it, and the only way I know how to do that is to write a new one.
There is power in shaping a story, deciding on the lessons learned -- if any -- and the path to the conclusion, and that power belongs to the storyteller, is bestowed in the writing and the telling. The only closure I've ever found is in writing. It is easy for me to share deeply personal stories. I do not feel exposed; I feel empowered. The stories and the feelings they explore are true, but only while I was writing them. Once published, they are a chapter of my life that I am no longer reliving and that do not belong to me in the same way.
Like writing about heartbreak. I wondered: should I immortalise these feelings? Will people read it and imagine I am a perpetually sad girl? Will he read it and imagine that I will pine for him forever? But the reader's interpretation does not matter in the same way that the telling does. Writing was a private act, an exorcism of sorts, and the reading has nothing to do with me.
Healing is found in stories, but especially in the writing of them. They lack edges when only spoken, are easily changed by the listener's response. The stories we tell only to ourselves are different: they become somehow more solid, reinforced by our obsessive revisiting of them. It is in writing that stories become something else altogether: ours but also not ours. It's a way to package them exactly how we want, to claim ownership but also release them, to no longer need to carry them in the same way. Some stories will need to be rewritten a hundred times before they become any lighter, but, again, that's where the healing is found. So write down your stories. And then tell them to me.