Untangling the Story

As soon as I learned to read, I read. And read and read. Books by the armful, even entire volumes of the Golden Book Encyclopedia. Did I say I loved reading? And even though I knew I could never be a writer, when the editor of our eighth-grade classroom newspaper (on whom I had a serious crush, by the way) asked us all what career we would like to have, I said, “writer.” How amazing it would be to use words to entertain, move, and inform other people the way so many writers did for me! But no, I could never be a writer.

In college my first major was English because I didn’t know what else to choose (and it meant a lot of reading!). I changed it after a couple of years because I never wanted to teach and knew I could never be a writer. After graduation, I ended up in various jobs, none of which ever fed my soul, and even left me miserable at times. Then in my mid-30s, I applied for a corporate writing job, thinking, Why not? To my amazement, I was hired. I learned so much there and finally became a real writer. After six years, I liberated myself to begin a freelance writing career of nearly 20 years, which I loved and which taught me so much about myself.

The Universe works in mysterious ways, does it not? I am deeply grateful for all the twists and turns, beautiful as well as ugly, that delivered me to that life-changing job (and finally to my calling as a journal facilitator). As Don Henley sings, “For everyone who helped me start and for everything that broke my heart, for every breath, for every day of living, this is my Thanksgiving.”

Looking back, I can see how various experiences, beliefs, and often improbable circumstances kept me on the crazy path that eventually took me to where I needed to be, even though I had mistakenly believed—all together now!—I could never be a writer. If all those story threads could be mapped (and they can’t), the result would resemble an immense nest that could never be untangled.

Even so, I’ve enjoyed tugging on some of those threads in my journal: how going here instead of there led me to this person, which led me to a new experience; how listening to my intuition at a particular moment opened up new avenues of perception and experience; and yes, how so many books seemed to fall into my lap to expand my awareness at just the right times.

In this on-and-off writing over the years, I have learned so much about my Living, Breathing Story that would have remained hidden in memory. Far more than thinking alone could ever do, the writing has revealed an ongoing story arc I had never realized before and which I am learning to use as a guide into the rest of my life.

If you would like to attempt untangling some of your Living, Breathing Story, here are some ways to go:

  • The Steppingstones (by Ira Progoff) This exercise might seem too involved at first, but once you do it a couple of times, you’ll see how powerful it is. You can do it many times about many aspects of your life. https://www.lifejournal.com/articles/the-steppingstones-of-ira-progoff/
  • Recall one significant experience that put you on a new path: What brought you to that experience in the first place? Who played a role in it? Was it expected or a surprise? What made it significant? How did it change you? etc. You can write about it or do a cluster or mind map.
  • Imagine holding one thread of that nest of your Living, Breathing Story in your life right now or some aspect of it. If you start following or tugging on that thread, where does it lead? Is it a straight line or does it loop or spiral or circle back on itself? Can you see the other end far away, even if you don’t know the in-between part, and describe it? What’s at the place of origin? etc.

Which Door Do You Choose, and Why?

Do you remember the old game show Let’s Make a Deal? Contestants had to choose Door #1, #2, or #3 and would win the prize behind their chosen door. Some of the prizes were spectacular, like a new car or an expensive vacation to an exotic location. Others, not so much. For some reason, this show popped into my mind recently, and it got me thinking about doors and doorways.

Every day we walk through doorways of many kinds. Some of them are literal—from one room to the next or an entrance to a building. (Did you know there is research that shows how walking through a doorway makes us forget?)

Other doors are metaphorical—as in the phrase, “When one door closes, another one opens,” for instance. (You can substitute a window in this one, too.)

Sometimes the passage through the door is wide open and clear. We might stride through with confidence. Or we might trip and fall on our face as we step through it. Other times, the door might be closed—or even locked. Do we open it or not? Take a risk or stay safe?

Here are some ways you can explore the doors in your life—the ones chosen and not—and the ways in which they affected you. These exercises can offer interesting insights into yourself and your Living, Breathing Story and its successes and challenges. Write for at least 7 minutes on each one, but go as long as you like.

  1. Playwright Tom Stoppard wrote, “Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.” Think of a time when you voluntarily exited a place, situation, event, or experience and it turned out to be an entrance into something new. If you want a prompt to get started, you can try one of these: When I left… OR Leaving _________ behind… OR A new door opened when I…
  2. Next, make a list of 5 literal doorways you have walked through during the past week. Then choose one and write about that doorway and where it led you. Consider including a brief physical description of the doorway and the structure it is a part of, but especially explore why you walked through it and what the result was. (You can do this with all 5 doors if you like.)
  3. Recall a metaphorical doorway you were forced to move through: health to illness, marriage to divorce, old job to new job (or no job), etc. Describe this doorway and how moving through it changed you or what you learned.
  4. Finally, what is one special doorway you hope yet to enter during your life? Write about this in present tense, as if it were already happening.

Joy and Sorrow

My visit to Tucson was such a joy. It could not have been better. My two journaling programs were well-received, which always makes me happy. My rental car was a zippy 2018 fire-engine red Kia Soul—not my usual kind of car, but it’s all that was available in my category—and I had a ball driving it. I went back to some favorite restaurants, as well as some new ones, and enjoyed every meal. But the best part of the visit was reconnecting with friends I hadn’t seen since Ken and I moved away in 2011, or even before then.

In every single case, it felt as if we had been together just yesterday. We all picked up right where we left off and caught up with what’s been going on in our lives. It brought me great joy to know that, despite being physically separated by many miles, our heart connections are still strong and thriving. I relish my friendships with all of them: Marilyn N., Becky, Marge, Meira (and Jasmine), Laurie, Norm, Nan, Dave, (and now Rhonda), Wendy, Val (and now Steph), Susan, Allen, Todd, Joy, Steve, and Marilyn G.

Then, several days after I came home to Indiana, the morning news blared with the tragedy in Las Vegas, with the tally eventually reaching 59 dead and more than 500 injured, all at the hands of one man high up in a hotel room stocked with way, way too many guns. My joy was blasted away, replaced by shock and sorrow.

I’ve been struggling since then, seeking solace and wondering, as are so many, why we continue to let this kind of horror happen. I have no answers, only a heart that keeps threatening to close itself off in self-protection against yet another senseless, horrific tragedy—perhaps one that will fall upon someone I love.

I refuse to let that happen, though. So I keep turning to my journal. Into its pages, I pour out my anguish and my questions, my fears and confusion. Imagining what it might be like for the families of the 59 and the many injured and their families, I wrote about how it feels to hear the news that someone you love deeply is suddenly in ICU because of another’s actions and it’s too early to know how your lives might be changed forever. Those feelings of terror and utter helplessness, bewilderment and anger all flooded back to me.

And I keep returning to writing about what is good in my life—there is so much good—and my gratitude for all of it. And I write about the love that is always, everywhere present—one deranged man did so much damage, but look at the many more people who took great risks to protect others, saved lives, drove the wounded to hospitals, lined up to donate blood, tended to and comforted the wounded and their families. Right now, those things seem small in the face of the gigantic horror that was visited upon a peaceful, happy concert—but that’s what important and what we must cling to. As this quotation attributed to Mr. Rogers says, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Because in that helping is much love and goodness we need to remember.

Despite what the 24-hour news cycle would have us believe, there is infinitely more good in the world than bad. It’s hard to see it on many days, I know. But it’s true, so pay more attention to what’s good in your life. Remember that your brain physically changes depending upon what you think about: neurons that fire together wire together. Do your best to seek out and concentrate on all the good in your world, in this entire world. Write about it often. Talk about it. Cherish it. Savor it. This does not mean to bury your head in the sand or to be a Pollyanna; it’s still important to take healthy, positive action, whatever that might be for you. But remember that putting energy into something makes it grow stronger within you and in the world, so take care of yourself and choose carefully.