Where The Story Is Told


I taught a workshop the other day in which a student shared an incredible story. When she was five and living in San Francisco, terrorists set off a bomb by her house. Though the Ecuadorian Consulate next door had been the actual target, the bomb destroyed much of her home and might have killed her if she had not been on the far side of the house the moment it was detonated.

The piece she shared was beautifully written. She did a marvelous job describing the event, capturing both the shocking and immediate violence of the explosion, the wreckage it left, as well as a child’s view of it all. She was, however, saddled with a common problem for memoirists who’ve lived through something shocking: aside from the fact that very few people have ever lived through a bombing, why was she telling this story?

This is why it’s sometimes easier to write a memoir story about something small like a prom date gone awry or a fishing trip with your uncle. The author can’t rely on the drama of surface events to carry the story. Instead, the author must go beneath the surface, down where suffering and joy and frustration and relief actually resides – within the mind and heart of the protagonist.

The story is never, ever outside of us. We are always the story, and the shifting scenery, the bombs and butterflies, can at best remind us of the tumult and beauty felt from moment to moment in the quietest of lives. I have been blessed with a relatively stable life; the illness and poverty and abuse about which so many of my clients write is in many ways foreign to me. But the struggle to understand it, to seek stability within ever-changing surroundings, is not. This is everyone’s job, is every story, is where life is actually lived.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.