conscious narrative: taking an active role in your life's story
When I was in first grade I distinctly remember bringing home a worksheet of adjectives that we were supposed to read to our parents and have them help us decide which adjectives best described us first-graders. For the life of me, I can’t remember if this was a general language exercise, a spelling exercise - whatever, it ultimately doesn’t matter - what I DO remember and have never forgotten is that my mother noted that I was quite a sentimental little one.
Sentimental? That’s an old-person word. That’s a boring word. That’s a word that you hear at funerals and to describe old stuffy moments at the nursing home that smells stale when we visit my great-grandparents.
Sentimental? It doesn’t feel right in my mouth. It doesn’t capture the energy of my imagination, it doesn’t speak to every reenacted movie moment, it doesn’t have the tenacity of trying on 12 pairs of shoes not because I don’t like the look but because I’m trying to recreate the sound of dress shoes on cobblestone.
(note, living in the suburbs of Minneapolis/St Paul in MN there was an absence of cobblestone that was perpetually devastating)
I remember this moment vividly. My mother making dinner, going between something on the stove and checking the oven. My standing on the linoleum kitchen floor and turning to walk into the dining area, worksheet clutched in hand. Being a little bit confused, a little bit repulsed, but ultimately circling sentimental then erasing it then circling it again because I was a rebellious little Hermione Granger-type that ultimately just wanted to satisfy my elders.
The incident faded to the recesses of memory, boxed into First Grade Experiences and filed away in my mind, until I recently stumbled upon an article by Michael Chabon for The New Yorker. I was trying to identify and define my Core Values and I kept coming back to words like Sentimentality and Nostalgic and Historic. But those weren’t quite right by traditional definitions. And then, this article. In it, Chabon defines his own version of nostalgia:
And suddenly I understood this label of being called a sentimental child.
I understood my fascination with history, my desperate need to tell stories on stage despite detesting attention otherwise, I understood this deep hollow ache I felt when I walked through Gettysburg for the first time when I was only 10 and rattled off more trivia to my family than the guided CD we had playing in the car. While I’ve always seen time somewhat linearly, I’ve also always been able to see stories written with the passage of time with great ease. I can imagine individuals, families, events, all in relation to their connections with each other, with landmarks, with significant historical events. This interconnectedness has always been as plain as the nose on my face. As obvious a fact as my slightly-overly large front teeth. The sky is blue and everything is connected and sometimes I can see it.
Doesn’t everyone live and see like this?
And thus I realized that for all the work I’d been doing regarding my own Core Values, Nostalgia As A Consciousness Of Lost Connection was truly one I held in highest regard. It quite frankly informed my life. Every decision I made was bent by this desire to see it on the continuum of my life and how it would look and if it would add up to the story I wanted to leave behind. And I wanted as much agency over this story as possible.
So there’s this thing I’ve been sitting on for a while.
I call it a Conscious Narrative.
It’s an approach to creating the story of your life through expression of individual Core Values. Living a Conscious Narrative means taking ownership of this story, of your legacy, and appreciating that you have agency over the telling of it all. You may not have autonomy over all the plot points (we all know - sh*t happens), but you have agency over the telling of the plot points, of the story arc, of the narrative as a whole.
Whether or not you like it, your life is going to write a story. And I believe the truest expression of our humanity can be taking a conscious role in what gets written.
This is part one of a three part series on the concept of Conscious Narrative.
I hope to introduce this concept, illustrate what it looks like daily, and inspire you to start creating the narrative of YOUR life.