I just finished another great book, one worth recommending here: Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution by Brené Brown. I’ve long been a fan of Brown’s work – particularly her writing on vulnerability, shame and perfectionism – and suggest you also read her previous books The Gifts of Imperfection and her more recent Daring Greatly.
In Rising Strong, Brown says something which startled me: “When we deny our stories, they define us.” I stopped reading when I read this line. Then I read it again and again. Then I shared the quote on Instagram – my social media spot of choice – and asked people whether they agree or disagree. Not a single person disagreed.
But what does this mean exactly? What does it mean to deny our stories? What does this denial look like? And what does it mean that these stories, the ones we do not integrate and acknowledge, come to define us? What’s interesting – to me – is that I’m not entirely sure how to answer these questions, how to perfectly (ah, dreaded word) articulate an answer to these questions, and yet I understand what she means.
We all have stories inside us. Many of them. Bits and pieces of experience and identity and knowledge. Stories we tell ourselves that are true and less than true, stories that we do not tell ourselves because they are too mysterious or painful or threatening. Stories that reside at the core of who we are and stories that are more peripheral, more perfunctory.
What I think matters, and what I think Brown is getting at, is that there are critical stories for each of us that must not be denied, that must be considered and examined and integrated (a word she uses throughout her book), stories that will come to be bigger than they need to be, more defining and even potentially destructive, if we don’t embrace them.
This has particular meaning for me. And at this very moment. I am a writer. A teller of stories. And I have spent much of the past ten years building fictional words, spinning imagined tales, but I’ve also dabbled in speaking – and writing – the truth. This blog has been very meaningful to me, a “small safe space” to speak honestly about my life and my questions. Brown writes in Rising Strong, “We can’t be brave in the big world without at least one small safe space to work through our fears and our falls.” I so believe this. I feel lucky to have a few of these small safe places carved out – in my husband who is also my confidant, in my therapist.
But back to the stories, the ones that we must not deny. I was at lunch the other day with my beloved literary agent who is also a dear friend. And we were catching up about our summers and our families and life, but we talked about what’s next for me. I was straightforward with her about my current uncertainty. I have so many ideas, I’ve written so many pages. I have, as you know, a couple novels in the works, but I am toggling between a desire to stay put in fiction and a pressing desire to write memoir. She listened to me and then we began talking about the story I’ve been flirting with – and, yes, denying – for years. A big, beautiful, scary, sad, sweet, ordinary, extraordinary story.
“I think it’s time,” I said.
She nodded, said something poetic. “It’s breathing inside you.”
And it is. This story is ready for me to tell it even though I can only see its hazy edges. I trust that I will know its dimensions once I dive in. Threads are clear to me, dots: loss, love, privilege, perfectionism, parenthood, alcohol, anxiety, writing, wandering, family, freedom, grief, gratitude. But I cannot yet know how these dots will connect – or even if they will – how the disparate threads will ask to be woven. We will see.
What I know with every bit of my being on this Monday morning in July: I must do it. I must sit down and write the story that’s been pulsing inside me for many years, that’s breathing. I say this without knowing whether I will really have the guts to do this. I sure hope so. I say this not knowing what the story is. But that will be the fun part and maybe the hard part too – to discover what it is, to finally allow myself to discover what it is.
I’m writing this post as a way of getting there, of holding myself accountable. My hope is that if I write these words, if I declare my intention to write this story, this story that’s at the heart of who I am, I will actually do it. I’m not sure it’s ever this simple though, if it works this way. No matter. Maybe I will lose my nerve, maybe I will find a way to spin my wheels once more, maybe I will fall madly in love with a fictional premise and pound out a novel. It’s all unclear, but what’s clear to me is that I’m inching toward something that matters a lot. A story that needs to be told, or rather one that I need to tell.
July 25, 2016. Today: I begin.
Do you believe that when we deny our stories, they define us?
Are there stories you’ve been denying?
Do you have a small safe place to work through your fears and your falls?
Are you familiar with Brené Brown’s work?