Thursday, October 21, 2010

Life Stories

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are." e.e. cummings

The past has had me in its thrall over the last few weeks. A few surprising Facebook re-connections and a fiction project set during my halcyon college days has sent me into trippy territory.

As I was playing catch- up with a friend I hadn't spoken with in over ten years, it occurred to me that trying to describe your life to someone who hasn't been in it for a long time is like explaining a soap opera to someone who never watched it. It can sound a little crazy. Maybe a lot crazy.

Turns out, it's also a great writing exercise and coaching tool for anyone who wants to assess his/her life. Just where you begin tells a lot about you and what's most important in your life. Same for the details you share and the ones you omit. Remember: it's not just what you say, but also what you leave out that speaks to your story, and your life.

Of course, sometimes your audience will determine just what you say. A distant friend may be a better springboard for the unfiltered truth than say your spouse, kids or parents. That's why folks go to coaches and therapists, too. It's easier to be honest with someone who doesn't have as big a stake in the way things have turned out or appear.

On the other hand, sometimes --especially if you've had a competitive friendship with someone-- you may tend to exaggerate accomplishments and downplay disappointments. So for the purposes of the exercise, try writing a letter to a long-lost friend with whom you have nothing but affection. If there is no such person in your past, he/she can be easily conjured. This is just an exercise for you to honestly take stock in your life. Try answering the following questions within the narrative:

Where are you vs. where you thought you'd be. Have you achieved your goals/ have they changed? What is your proudest personal and professional achievements? What challenges have you faced and how have you handled adversity? What do you regret most? Who are the most important people in your life?

Don't just list the questions--and you don't have to answer all of them; there may be others that seem more relevant as you write. Just let yourself write your story, allowing your authentic voice to come through in a brief, page length version. You may be fascinated by both what you highlight and omit. And be amazed at the questions that surface.

These short life stories can be used to mine creative material for fiction and drama. They can also be fabulous barometers and teaching tools for those yearning to make personal, creative and career transitions. You may be surprised at just what emerges as your next big step.

So be brave and honest. And get ready to immerse yourself in your own life. I think you'll find it an exhilarating and illuminating journey.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.