Can telling your story alter it?

I’ve been reading an excellent book called Uncommon Measure, by Natalie Hodges. Hodges is a former violinist who dedicated herself to music until performance anxiety forced her to quit.

I have much to say about this book, as well as much I am still processing. But something that stood out was her thought that the act of writing her story had somehow altered it.

She comments:

“I have written about my past in order to understand it for myself, and in doing so have necessarily rewritten it, altering not the facts themselves but the way they converge to make narrative, to create meaning. That meaning itself is constantly in flux; we are always making it up and then revising as we go along, ordering and reordering our understanding of the past in real time.

Somehow looking back on and recording the choice (to be a musician) has altered that choice, or at least its consequences. This is also what makes writing frightening, at least to my mind: the fact that it can change the past so effortlessly, and solidify that change into reality.”

Your story is a big, messy thing. What’s more, it’s also not static. After all, your story only exists as a mental construct in your head.

I’ve previously described telling your story as being like picking a path through the weeds. What I hadn’t considered was that walking the path you choose can alter the path itself, or seemingly your relationship to it. This alteration in the act of telling is usually a good thing; maybe even a healing one.

Perhaps solidifying a positive change into reality is the highest role of storytelling?


P.S. I picked up Uncommon Measure on Maria Popova’s recommendation. Her comments are well worth a read.

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