The bottom line: A permission slip, to myself, to write to my heart’s content. And then, after I’ve finished writing, apply my new-found skills of the story scaffolding to the piece, to help me determine whether or not this is a story or a non-story. Depending on the answer, there might be some value in going back to the piece to shape, embellish, clarify it. Or not.
I spent an hour and a half in the company of four newfound friends, all of whom are co-travellers in the Story Skills Workshop. One of the assignments is to record yourself telling (or reading. Yeah. There’s a difference. One I’d not been fully aware of before.) a story, and then invite others into a live story-telling-session.
It was a lot of fun, very rewarding in terms of feedback given and received, and, as always, feedback given by someone to another story-teller, is sometimes as helpful, or perhaps even more helpful, than feedback directed straight at me. The round-about-way is, perhaps, more palatable, in the sense that I am more easily open to take in what is being said, when it is not me, my story, my performance, my telling, that’s in the spotlight.
The direct feedback I got was extremely valuable though, and here I am, contemplating a re-write of my story, to encompass all of the insights and nudges I got after my first round of telling it.
However, as I woke this morning I remembered… I’d recently read s o m e t h i n g that spoke precisely to this. To the re-telling, the embellishment, the ’making more of’ that I was busy doing, in my mind’s eye. But what was that something? And where did I read it?
I turned towards one of the four books I am currently reading, neatly stacked on my nightstand, and picked it up. I was hoping it was this one (A Primer for Forgetting, by Lewis Hyde), and not The Naked Now by Richard Rohr that I’d finished a week prior, and subsequently had borrowed to a friend. If it was that one I was in trouble, as I didn’t have it at hand.
Flicking through the pages of Hyde’s book, going backwards from my bookmark firmly lodged on page 126, I glance at my marginalia, hoping that it will pop up. Luckily, it does. On page 100, so not even that many pages back. It’s a chapter titled FEED ON THE PRESENT and in it Hyde recounts a story he’s heard recounted, of a man coming to a realization on the actual recounting of his story.
As I am extra fond of these meta-me (or meta-Larry, in this case) conversations, here’s a few paragraphs from the book:
”… when he got home and recounted the story to various friends, ’the telling started to change a bit, from it just being a straight report of a fact and what I went through. I saw that it was promoting the self. […]’ The story had picked up self-importance along the way; ’there was some mileage coming from it.’”
’… this kind of self-making may be unavoidable and often harmless, but as a matter of Buddhist practice it should at least be noticed, be brought to mind. ’I saw what the mind was doing; the mind was taking materials from the pastas first they were just ’factual’ but then immediately started to use them for the present, the present sense of myself… The self if constantly using the materials of the past and the future to nourish itself, to build itself up… I didn’t do it consciously… It just happened. The ego is going to work, and that’s what it knows how to do.’
[…] to describe how the ego functions: it feeds on the past and the future.”
– Lewis Hyde, A Primer for Forgetting
I am not a journalist.
Embellishing texts and stories is well within my prerogative, and yet.
I do believe there’s something to the awareness alluded to by Hyde (and Larry). If I am conscious of what I am doing, as I am embellishing my stories… I don’t know. There’s a greater chance of me being careful with the message? Or intentful? My stories are often centered around me – my learnings, insights, difficulties – and I honestly don’t want to make me into a person far removed from the people I am trying to reach, be it through writing or telling. I want the threshold to be lowered, rather than increased, and if I were to simply embellish as much as I can, I fear that wouldn’t be the case.
Perhaps this is simply a message for me, as this is part of the usefulness I make of my writing:
I discover myself while writing, and if I then embellish freely, is it me I am discovering, or an imaginary me?
(My old me did stop here, leaving you, as well as me, hanging. But, in having a story scaffolding to drape my story across, when I did, I came to the realization that this is an incomplete story, if I want it to actually read as a story. The missing part is the consequence. Where will this all lead to? What will this all lead to?
Again. I don’t h a v e to make it into a full story. That’s my prerogative. Each and every time. But, for the purpose of the learning and discovery-journey I am on, let’s say I do want that:)
I’d say, my answer to this moral dilemma, centers around what my purpose is.
Am I writing only to find me? If so. Go ahead, make it less story-telling-worthy. Don’t embellish, stick to what helps me find me.
But if I am also, or only, writing in order to get a point across, to publish a text that I hope will resonate with others too… then by all means. Put a bit more effort into it. Check to see that the story scaffolding is active in each and every step. Make sure I do engage my audience, that the challenge is clearly seen/felt/understood, so that the resolution points to a change, leaving no-one in question as to where the story ended for the heroine.
Only… that leaves me with the worst answer of them all: It all depends.
However. I actually think this speaks to what the Story Skills Workshop is truly about. For me. (Important bit, that last one. For me!) I write, a lot, and seldom am I intentional with my writings. Neither when sitting down to write, nor when I ship. And honestly, I don’t necessarily want to be more intentional when setting out to write. I do so enjoy writing only to discover when I am knee-deep in, what I am actually writing about.
But the latter part. Doing the post-analysis, using the story scaffolding, helps me see what the piece is all about. And prompts me to ask myself: What’s the purpose of this piece? What do I want it to be? What do I want it to do? Does it want to become a story, or is it (I!) content with having it be a non-story?
Depending on the answer, I might, or might not, do what I did here. Go back to the writing, deliberately and intentionally shaping it (or not), embellishing it (or not), clarifying it (or not), so that I know I’ve done my best to give it the necessary prerequisites of being able to live up to my intention/s. Story or non-story alike.