“Most of the stories we are told now are written by novelists and screenwriters, acted out by actors and actresses, stories that have beginnings and endings, stories that are not real.
The stories we can tell each other have no beginning and ending. They are a front row seat to the real experience. Even though they may have happened in a different time or place they have a familiar feel. In some way they are about us, too.
Real stories take time. We stopped telling stories when we started to lose that sort of time, pausing time, reflecting time, wondering time. Life rushes us along, and few people are strong enough to stop on their own.
Most often, something unforeseen stops us and it is only then we have the time to take a seat at life’s kitchen table. To know our own story and tell it. To listen to other people’s stories. To remember the real world is made of just such stories.”
This quote is from the most amazing book– Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Noemi Remen. I randomly happened to pick it up off the bookshelf at some friends’ house, where I was housesitting last month.
Honestly, this book basically changed the entire month of August for me.
The quote I picked out above is part of the Introduction, and lays out the basic premise of the book: that stories can lead to healing. Real stories– the ones with twists and turns. The stories we maybe gave up on, in our own lives, only to revisit them years later and realize we managed to learn and grow from the experience, even if it wasn’t apparent at the time.
Not the stories we are accustomed to hearing– the stories that follow a perfect literary arc. You know, the chart we all learned about in English class.
This whole idea really resonated resonated with me in terms of the difficulties I’ve faced in my own writing. It’s hard to put yourself out there– to write from a place of vulnerability, when you’re afraid it’s going to look like a place of negativity.
It’s hard to do that, to write about your own story in a way that feels constructive, when you don’t actually have all the answers yet.
But you know what? I never have trouble telling my own story when I’m just talking to my friends. My close friends– the ones I would tell even my most embarrassing secrets to. I consider them my sisters (a few brothers, too).
When I am with my friends– at Rachel Noemi Remen’s metaphorical kitchen table– I don’t feel the pressure to form my experiences into a discernable arc. I am able to find meaning in telling my story (and hopefully my friends find meaning in hearing it!) even if I haven’t gotten to the end yet. Even if there is no answer, and I’m not sure there ever will be.
Dr. Remen is right– in our culture, there is this pressure to talk about ourselves in a way that’s unfailingly positive. To present our story in a neat package, with all the loose ends resolved. To apologize for being negative. To only talk about our problems in the past tense, once we’ve already found the answer.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, that’s a pressure I’ve felt on this blog. Not, of course, from any one person. (In fact, I have been shocked at how generous people have been with their support!).
The pressure comes from myself, from the general cultural expectation we have that people will be positive, that to talk about our problems is a sign of weakness.
My friend M. is from Costa Rica, and says it’s different there. That people are much more free and open in talking about their problems. That when people do talk about their problems, others don’t see it as a sign of weakness. Everyone has problems– it’s just part of life.
So I’m going to try to incorporate Dr. Remen’s perspective, and M.’s, as I write this blog.
“Until we stop our ourselves, or more often, have been stopped, we hope to put certain of life’s events “behind us” and get on with our living. After we stop, we see that certain of life’s issues will be with us for as long as we live. We will pass through them again and again, each time with a new story, each time with a greater understanding, until they become indistinguishable from our blessings and our wisdom. It’s the way life teaches us how to live.”