I’m very well versed in the stories of my own life.
I have phrases deftly crafted to get the right levels of hilarity, tension, and tenderness in every anecdote, told firstly at work, then the pub, then at a dinner party, then recounted over email, and perhaps again at work many months later. This effort is so vigorous, that my only concern when sharing one of my tales is that the listener (/reader) might have already been on the receiving end of this one, and therefore notice how nuts I am for using the exact same phrasing twice. Key events (first day of university, terrible day at the office, trip to Venice, etc) are on hand, script ready at any given moment. In short, my boyfriend’s nickname for me is ‘Farrah Three Stories’.
Obviously everyone does this to some extent. I continue to tell my retellings with a happy heart. So this weekend, when I told a group of strangers a story that left me in tears, I was a little stunned with myself.
I was sat in a fabulous little old lady’s front room talking creative writing at Laura Jane Williams’ How to Write Words People Want to Read. (You might have already noticed, but I have a blog, and I’m doing my darndest to motivate myself into writing for it once more. Hence the creative writing workshop.) Through the magical power of inspiration, empowerment and doughnuts, we were invited to write about the first time we’d met a significant person. Right. Pen to paper.
I worked on it hard and with pride for five hours. It was only when it came to reading it aloud did I realise the impact this one little memory had on me. Each word that had been put down in innocence now formed a narrative about my own life I had ignored before. Through no conscious decision, I had chosen my own #tragicbackstory. How embarrassing.
There are parts of our lives we choose to engage with. Then there are the other parts. They might be boring, sad, embarrassing. We skim past them, we all-out forget about them, we direct our attentions elsewhere. We fill in the gaps with the things we are prepared to engage with. This is our narrative.
Through this workshop I realised that this narrative is a powerful thing- so powerful that it can inadvertently tap into feelings long since thought of. We spent the afternoon together talking technique, inspiration, editing and critiques, but I think the most impactful thing about this day was the very real realisation of the gentle power of telling a story well.
I was at first frustrated with myself- it really doesn’t shout ~be my friend, I’m super cool and creative~ to be bursting into tears like that. I was mortified, mate. Yet here we are, on reflection, and on reading the very sweet message Laura Jane left in my copy of Becoming, I’ve come to see that this lil’ outburst of mine is the best outcome I could have asked for.
I don’t have to resort to the same stories and the same words on rote. There is a creativity lurking about waiting to be caught and put to work, and if crying in a room full of strangers has taught me anything, it’s that I may as well get imaginative with it.