This morning happens to be as unstructured as yesterday morning, though (blessedly!) I’m accountable in the afternoon and evening. (Somewhere around 2pm yesterday I realized I’d slipped into a replay of “I Work From Home“… shudder.) So within my circumstantial structure I decided to (a) see whether I could avoid the pocket computer and (b) read not just the local paper but one of the Real Simples that have accumulated. No, their stack is nowhere near the literary magazines. That is a much more august, and taller, pile.
In the October Real Simple issue they’ve included, “How Telling Your Story Can Benefit Your Emotional Health” (or “The Power of a Story” in the print edition). Glancing through it, I saw it covers all the bases I’m familiar with, and touches on something I believe is a deeper truth: stories are how we tell each other who we are.
In fact, story-telling is part of one of my parenting pro tips. And not the ‘don’t tell lies (stories)’ kind… for starters, why on earth would a writer like me be running around conflating her work with a major character flaw?!
It’s like this:
I have a child who ‘reads’ the future. She takes what’s happening around her, squints a little, and sees the various likely trajectories. It runs in the family; her mother does this, her grandfather does this, and it’s not much of a stretch to think that the great-grandmother for whom she’s named did it too.
I have another child who possesses a profound emotional antenna. She pulls in the emotions of any space she’s in, at the general level and at the particular—she feels what you’re feeling. (So quit holding your breath!)
These are big things for the small people my children once were!
My future-reader’s bias is for the gloom. She’s pretty average that way; it’s a well-documented human tendency. My bias was toward the anxiety-producing outcome more than the flat-out most negative that she tends to choose, but still. So from her earliest years, when she first shared her dark prognostications, I told her the preschooler version of what my therapist had taught me:
“Is your brain telling you scary stories?”
Likewise for my emotion-absorbing child—when the swell of the world’s emotions started to drown her, telling her she’d never be happy again, “Is your brain telling you scary stories?”
When we slow down, we know that we don’t hold the future. When we get a little detachment, we can remember that each moment is, well, momentary. That past performance and present activity may or may not yield the results we foresee. Being prepared is all well and good… but why not be just as prepared for positive things? The odds are equally likely.
Stories are how we tell ourselves who we are just as much as they’re the mud and straw from which we build our collective identities. The Real Simple article suggests, “Give yourself a more positive ‘story prompt.'” I second that. Whatever negative story you’ve just started to tell yourself, stop. Flip it, and see how that new story comes out.
Mine says: Weighs circumstances well in the moment, choosing the ‘highest and best’ use of time not just for herself, but for her interwoven communities. It’s unclear how this gift will intersect with classical scholastic pursuits… but the classic practices may not currently be her ‘highest’ or her ‘best.’ What an adventure, to see how this plays out!