Advent 2020 Day 5, 3.December
Re-making the meaning and significance of the Advent is about taking control of our stories.
We are surrounded by stories that others have written, and we make sense of our own lives through story.
Story is how we make sense of what is happening how we understand the meaning of events and information.
This includes taking over and re-making received cultural events like Advent, and also considering the power you have to shape the significance of personal events in your life.
For decades the story about my teenage foray into downhill ski racing was “I was good, but not good enough. I started too late.”
Recently, I sat on a wooden bench looking up at my old haunts. I reviewed all the stories I’d re-told many times. My first race, my first cornice, my only injury, the candlelight parade, bootpacking Oly Lady for the World Cup, my teachers, my victories and wipeouts. I stared at the snow as if I must memorize it again. I stared at the lifts as if I must turn the gears by hand. Eventually my eyes fell from the steeps to the bottom of the courses. And then I remembered a story that I had never told.
Several times a day the prestigious Squaw Valley Ski Team had to travel sideways, from the base of KT22 to the base of Red Dog, a distance of about 350m. Taking off the skis and walking through the snow would take too long; we had to “skate”, which is extremely hard work on downhill skis. I remembered how heavy my skis were, how every muscle burned, and how I never considered stopping.
I was 12 years old. And, crucially, my family could have cared less for skiing or athletic accomplishments and the coaches did not assess me as worthy of attention. That drive was all mine. That recovered memory re-wrote the story of what skiing was about, revealing who that little person was, and who I am.
I break a wine glass in my mother’s house.
I’m really very annoyed at how clumsy I am, especially with glassware. I am still carrying around the remnants of a crystal tumbler from 2018. (For a while I kept one of the shards in my foot, but I did let that part go.)
I could berate myself as usual, or I can seize this moment to affirm that as an adult, my mother can no longer assault me over broken glasses. I tell myself that I broke the glass to prove that I am finally safe. I give a ritual meaning to this moment. I make it transformational.
Hey, I make the meaning around here!
How to take power over your stories
Pause when you are about to tell one.
It’s possible to get stuck in your story so that you are not actually open to new possibilities. My friend C knows how to heal horses with his hands. The owners are so thrilled that they beg him to work on their own aches and pains. But he doesn’t like to work on people because “The horses want to feel better. The people stay with their pain,” he says. “It’s their story.”
When asked about your past and realize you are about to launch into a familiar story, pause and think how it might have been different, or even tell the person that you don’t feel like telling it now. Reflect on what it feels like to take some distance from the routine meanings of your life.
Experiment with alternate stories
Privately, write some of your life stories in alternate universes.
See what you learn about the complexity of the truth: The discipline of anthropology almost collapsed when confronted [by honest insiders] with the facts of storytelling, as a –so far irreplaceable– method for turning data into text. In 1986 Clifford and Marcus admitted in Writing Culture that “every story is made possible by lies of exclusion”.
When something troubling but inconsequential happens (like a broken wineglass) bring in your favorite fictional characters (or talking animals) to populate the scene and imagine what they might say and do.
Hang out with new information until you decide on the story you want to make your future
Be conscious about the power of the story to cause us to think we know what’s going on. When something happens, don’t immediately impose a narrative. What you say about this event, will fix it, give it shape and reality and future. It may be a game-changer it may be an aperture. In fact it may turn out to be ignorable.
Waiting before interpreting a crisis gives you time to explore what you really want. This pause may bring the interesting news that you don’t even want the thing anymore. You may find an aperture to freedom or readiness to do something far more important to you.