How We Tell Stories

I’ve never been one to meditate. I tried once, and I found it incredibly irritating. The idea of silencing my thoughts and replacing it with, I don’t know, the imaginary sound of the ocean, seemed like an abysmal waste of time. But, I’ve heard it works miracles like yoga or whatever fad the mental health community is raving about for the year. Lately, with the buzz of finals and my undergrad education approaching its finale two semesters, I’ve been thinking about trying meditation and a quote from HBO’s Enlightened replays in my mind. Amy Jellicoe (the lead character) states that meditating is about “stopping the storytelling for even for just minute.”

A still of Amy Jellicoe from HBO’s Enlightened

The phrase instantly interested me when I first heard it. Her statement is never really explained, but I think it was incredibly true for the way in which all people, especially writers, don’t just tell stories within the confines of a page, but within the containment of their minds on a near constant basis. I know this is true for me at least. It’s not necessarily that I’m telling fictional stories like most people assume when they hear “story telling.” It’s a type of story telling that is highly personal that reflects both on my present, past, and future.

I remember, as a high school student, I wouldn’t go five minutes without thinking about the characters in a story I was writing, wondering where their paths would take them. As I got older, however, and my life experience and responsibilities increased, I began to think less about my fictional characters and more about creating a story line for the character of Jacob Levi Stroud. The story telling focused on the past. Since sophomore year, I feel as if I’ve been constantly analyzing my life experience as a piece of literature while I try to funnel it into a cohesive storyline. I think of the themes that emerge and patterns in my behavior that serve as motifs. I think about the supporting characters that have come in and out of my life, what their subplots were, and how their stories connected to the overall trajectory of mine. This shift in thinking may have been to shape me as a an actual writer. I was searching for things for stories that could be more real, or even searching for the start of a memoir.

But, I think I was also searching for something deeper, for something more real than a story to put on a page. I was searching for a better understanding of who I was so I control the story I was telling in my present. I think we all do this to an extent. We try to understand why we do what we do by analyzing the tale of our past. Maybe we seek this information out of pure confusion or curiosity. Or maybe we do it to manipulate the story that is our future.

I think for me, over the past year, internal storytelling has mostly focused upon determining the plot of my future. With every month, I develop a new character for myself ten years down the road. In this year alone, I went from being a TV writer, to a dietician, to a health educator, to a health educator/environmental educator, and finally to a health educator/environmental educator/documentarian. With every new approach to constructing my fate, I determine the obstacles my future self will face and the plot twists that may come my way. I imagine the supporting cast I will encounter, and the different scenery in which I will be situated. The fluctuation is frightening yet incredibly engaging at the same time. With anxious eyes, I’m watching a story that has not yet been recorded.

I’m beginning to wonder if writing is my meditation, as if placing my thoughts onto paper is the only way to stop this mental storytelling and take a break while I play upon the concreteness of a page (well, not totally concrete since we now live in the digital era).  In fact, this break may be beyond using words to construct a story, expanding to any form of expression. Maybe this is why many of us from dancers to engineers faced with using creativity in a logical field express creatively, to escape the stories of our minds and meditate in the ones that we can produce.

One thought to “How We Tell Stories”

  1. That’s so funny – I work in the same way. It’s gotten to the point where sometimes I even narrate in my head what I say out loud. For example, I’ll be going to the kitchen in the morning to get something for breakfast, and in my head I’ll hear, “She shuffled sleepily into the kitchen, poured herself a glass of orange juice, and put a piece of bread into the toaster.” I never thought of it as a form of meditation before, but that makes total sense. Like meditation, narrating your life is a way of bringing yourself out of your head.

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