Living a Storytelling Life

This has been a strange week. Three times either I or someone else missed or misremembered a meeting time, date and/or place. The first time, I had written down 2 p.m. for an appointment with a student, and she showed me where I had agreed, by e-mail, to 3 p.m. (Fortunately I had hung around until 3, so we had our meeting.) The next day, I went to a meeting, and the guest speaker didn’t show up. He thought he was supposed to present a day later. Two hours later, I ran to a meeting, only to find that no one I expected to be present was there. I frantically e-mailed and searched old e-mails on my phone to find out what I had done wrong. It wasn’t until the next day that I was told that there are two rooms in that building with similar names, and I had entered the incorrect one.

Bad week, you say? Not at all. I spent the hour waiting for the student speaking on the phone to my sister, for whom I never have enough time. When the presenter didn’t show up, the audience members shared their own stories and questions on a related topic. And although I was sitting in the wrong room later in the day, the meeting was fascinating; I couldn’t tear myself away for 45 minutes. When at last I did, I accomplished two important errands that I have been putting off for a long time.

It’s been a funny week for another reason, too. Several times this week someone, either a friend or colleague or client, has offered or paid me money, either to do a service or, in one case, in acceptance of a grant proposal. I can go many months without that happening, and in fact I did this summer. But in just five days, from 2 a.m. Sunday morning to 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon, I was the recipient or promised recipient of largesse from four sources.

Now, to the storytelling life. The narrative act, we are told, affords meaning to seemingly chaotic and senseless human experience. This is one of the reasons it’s so useful in preventing or combatting depression. Loss of a sense of meaning in one’s life, particularly for the elderly, is a primary indicator of depression.

So when I connect my experiences of the week, not only within one set of thematically linked events (the meeting challenges) but also within and between two (the money offers), I am ordering experience, looking for meaning in seemingly random events. For me, these coinciding occurrences indicate that good things will come if I just let go and stop trying to control every aspect of my life. For someone else, these events might mean something completely different, just as dream interpretation is based at least as much on the individual dreamer’s life and attitudes as it is on universal dream symbology.

Just to be clear: I am not suggesting here that there are no coincidences, that there is a master plan for every bit of matter in the universe. My point is simply that we can be the master storyteller of our own lives, ordering and interpreting events as we experience them in order to understand ourselves better.

That’s what storytellers do. Try it, and let me know what you think.

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  • Liana Giorgi  On October 23, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Nice blog Karen — many thanks.
    It brought to mind two associations:
    First, the half full / half empty glass — it is, of course, a matter of perspective, but also a matter of choice.
    Second, I was reminded of Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ — in one of the first letter he points out an important distinction regarding irony (or cynicism). He writes, irony is a great writing style for those who command it. At the same he cautions against making it a style of or attitude to life.

    • Caren Neile  On October 23, 2011 at 11:43 am

      Wow, thank you especially for the Rilke–very powerful. As for glasses half empty or full, I am reminded of Milton’s line, which goes something like this: A mind is its own place, and can make a heaven out of hell, or a hell out of heaven.
      So nice to be able to think of allusions from genius writers sometimes as opposed to TV shows, especially early on a Sunday morning!

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