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Monday, November 7, 2016

Telling Our Stories: A Postscript

Five years ago, while listening to Terry Gross interview author Tom Perrotta on NPR’s Fresh Air, I heard Perrotta say: “There are these dueling [human] impulses to…remember and bear witness and to forget and move on.”

Five years, and I still think about those “dueling impulses.” So when we want to write down our personal stories, how do we decide which to remember and which to forget?

Some people might opt to forget and move on from their setbacks, losses, and hardships. Others might want to record them as a way to move on from them. They see “bearing witness” to those darker, sadder stories as a kind of release, a way not to stay trapped in a story they no longer wish to inhabit.

Or at least be defined by.

A very common example is when we experience a bruising breakup, divorce, or death of a significant other. Do we want to record that story? And in the process remember and bear witness both to the love and the loss? Or do we want to forget that particular experience altogether?

These questions—no matter the experience—have often come up in my workshops. Someone will say, “I don’t want to write down that story. It’s too painful.” Over the years, anticipating it, I begin each workshop by reading Dr. James Pennebaker’s ”Flip-Out Rule,” which I describe on page 24 of my book, Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Stories. I introduce the rule with: “Each of us is the final authority on when or even if we tell certain of our stories.”

Which is to say that we are the author of that decision. Just as we are the author of our life’s story, including how we see it unfolding from this point forward.

NOTE: I am forever grateful to Dr. Pennebaker for giving me permission to use his Flip-Out Rule in my book; it originally appeared in one of his books, Writing To Heal. 

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