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.
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8 replies
  1. Julie Stafford
    Julie Stafford says:

    Thank you for sharing your story!
    I love books…..I want to write so badly and don’t know how to start….
    Any words of wisdom…?
    I will start the journaling…
    Thank you and many Blessings!

  2. Barbara Stahura
    Barbara Stahura says:

    Thanks, Sandra. I appreciate your kinds words. You, too, are making a difference with your book, The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal From Trauma, Illness, or Loss. May it sell many copies!

  3. Barbara Stahura
    Barbara Stahura says:

    Hi, Julie. It can be tough to start any piece of writing, whether a book or simply a journal entry. That blank page (or screen) just staring at you… But one good way to begin a journal entry is with a prompt, which is a short phrase or a few words or a question that will get your pen moving. For instance, some good prompts I like are: Today I feel… OR Something on my mind… OR If I could… OR I would love to… OR I am grateful for… You could even create a list of prompts to have on hand. One good journaling book I like to recommend is Kathleen Adams’ Journal to the Self. It’s a good and thorough explanation of journaling as well as many techniques you can use. That’s the first book I used when I started journaling in earnest some years ago.

    Does this help?

  4. Carol Roberts
    Carol Roberts says:

    I can’t tell you how I write poems — they just seem to come and it’s almost like I’m taking dictation. However, my regular daily routine is to start with three things I’m thankful for, and then I always move to prayers for others, for help for myself, and I ask for a good ear to hear what the Spirit may be saying. This keeps me grounded.

  5. Kay Adams
    Kay Adams says:

    What a wonderful story of resilience, destiny and desire! Your living, breathing story has brought you to this place of not only writing, but guiding others to write. Thanks for the recommendation of Journal to the Self. Love what you’re doing here!

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