When I tell stories about my own life, I usually employ the “Joke Model.” That is, I begin with an ending, a punch line, and then shift backwards as far as necessary before moving detail by detail toward the conclusion. Everything in the story, hopefully, is in place for that final moment. This approach is less a conscious narrative strategy than a reflection of how my memory works. I don’t usually remember whole stories about my life – those are constructed after the fact. Rather, I remember individual moments, snapshots of poignancy or understanding. As a storyteller, it’s my goal to help my reader feel or understand what I felt or understood in those singular moments. In order to tell such a story, it is important I remember that while I may know that I felt or understood something, I never know why. This is the purpose of the story. At the actual moment, of course, I don’t care why, I’m just glad for the understanding. The story, however, is all about why. I am a detective in my own life, in search of a villain. After all, if something is understood, then something was first misunderstood; and if something was misunderstood, then that misunderstanding was acted upon, usually to my own suffering.
So, yes, stories about my life are in fact all about me. I am the villain and the hero, the savior and the saved. But mostly the villain, I think. There would be virtually no need for my stories without all my misunderstanding. Yet it is the ending that makes my villainy so gentle. I was guilty of nothing, was in need of no punishment – only a correction of perception.
It is hard for me to believe in real villains given what storytelling has taught me. The problem is you can’t make anyone correct their own perception; this we must always do ourselves. In the meantime, we’re as capable of any action as the mind is capable of any dream. Frightening, I know, but nightmares can end, and when they do there remains only a dreamer awakened to himself.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.