Wednesday, January 04, 2006

What's your story? by Claudie Plen

What's your story? by Claudie Plen

Why do we make New Year's resolutions? Each year, we imagine that the ticking of the clock will miraculously transform us into the person we dream about being, a thinner, richer, non-smoking, chocolate averse version of ourselves. The reality is that we remain the same person, our habits may change, to a greater or lesser extent, but not our essential selves. What we can change, however, are the stories we tell about ourselves and our world. We can create new stories, new possibilities and make them real and exciting. What's your story going to be this year?

Every time we create we tell a story. Every piece of work we do contains a narrative. It's how we express who we are and how we want the rest of the world to see us. Every time we bump into a friend or acquaintance, we might say: ”you’ll never guess what happened to me today” or ”I’ve just had the most terrible day imaginable”. We're expressing ourselves through narrative - telling a story in order to connect and communicate. We also use narrative as a means of getting to know someone new - swapping stories, positive and negative, or trying to impress or create a certain picture of ourselves, our desires or our belief systems. It's the way we fall in love, make friends, and how we maintain the bonds we have already forged. We share stories with the people we care about where these stories have mutual resonance, and we retell them to create intimacy over time.

When we are hurt or frightened or loved and encouraged we can carry stories with us about our capabilities which can prompt creative blocks or ideally support us creatively. Do you still tell the story of how you were clumsy or shy as a child? Do family members or old friends still recount stories which make you feel inadequate or belittled? It’s important to consider if the stories we tell about ourselves are still valid, still relevant and useful or 'true'.

When we look at the way fictional stories impact on us, it’s interesting to see how different narratives work with our psyches or on our emotional states. As children, we often learn in this way: our parents may use stories as educational tools – often as warnings - and our teachers may tell us moral stories, or stories which have particular philosophies, in order to impart knowledge, explain history or to share spiritual values. But do these stories really belong to you? Do they represent your beliefs and perspectives now? The connections and conflicts between emotional narratives and educational narratives can have great resonance for us as creative people. Ask yourself these questions:

Why do you tell the stories you tell? Are they still useful and powerful for you?

When you write or paint or act, what stories are you telling about yourself?

How do these stories create your sense of identity, of belonging, or conversely, your sense of alienation from yourself and your world?

As children we are drawn to particular stories, and the sense of magic and involvement with them often arises from something we connect with in the story, or from some aspect of the story that we long for. We create stories as children which reflect our sense of belonging or of alienation. Drawings and our inner imaginative worlds express far more at that age than we would be able to capture in words.

When you think about your childhood, which stories really affected you? Which stories did you read over and over again or clamour to be told. Think about one story which really held this magic for you. What was it about? What really made you love it so much and want to be immersed in it over and over? Think about the resonance it may still have for you. What creates a similar magic for you now? What could?

Much of our identity is formed by the stories we are told by our families. As we grow up we hear stories told by our parents, our grandparents, uncles, aunts and siblings. Often our families tell these stories to create a sense of belonging, of shared identity, and we imbibe values and beliefs through these stories. Sometimes unintentionally, we are told what to think, what to value, how to behave or how to perceive the world around us. We probably teach and communicate with our own children in the same way. How aware are you of the impact of your own store of information and learned values and beliefs?

There were many dark stories that belonged to my family as I grew up. A tendency to depression, political activism and my family's migrant history played its part in the stories that I tell, and in the way I express myself creatively. However, my father’s humour and his stories of the tricks he and his brothers and sister would play on each other as children - throwing their porridge out of the window at breakfast or setting the house on fire as part of a game they were playing – also helped to shape the way I see myself, and the way that I write and paint and the stories that I tell.

Who are the storytellers in your family and what did they teach you?

Sometimes silence or a lack of storytelling can be a story in itself about a family. Are there stories in your family which were never told?

How do you respond to those stories creatively? Do you or have you reacted against them? Embraced those stories? How could you involve those stories in your creative work?

What are the stories you want to tell in 2006?

Article reproduced with the kind permission of the author, Claudie Plen


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