Recently, an artist of my acquaintance sent out a request to some of his contacts, hopeful they could provide him with some inspiration for an upcoming project. He was interested in the stories we tell ourselves, the narratives or mantras that help us get through the challenging and difficult times.
How hard can this be? I thought.
In a jiff I hit the Reply button, set to work with my response, then returned to his inquiry to make sure I had fully understood his request.
Nope. Wrong answer.
So I set aside the jiff, scratched a little deeper and once again hit Reply. Again began to type. Again returned to the original query.
And again—nope. It appears this one's a stumper. Or in confectionery terms, smooth chocolate on the outside, gnarly nougat in the center.
I don't believe I possess such a narrative. At least not one that I dust off when the mud's sucking down my boots. It's true I tip toward optimism, but that's more a way of being than a story I actively tell myself when the going gets rough. I've always been a vicarious learner, having shaped my point of view largely on lessons I've taken from others' experiences. If you burn your hand in the fire, I don't have to test it myself to see that it's hot (okay yes there have been those ugly exceptions). I've always felt that a strong personal philosophy would serve me well in the most despairing of times.
Sure, there are moments when my brain taps out a quick little memo to myself, something like You Can Do This, a message I consider a simple placeholder for the highly developed faith system I lack. But a quickie message such as this hardly qualifies as a personal narrative. Or so I think.
A woman who has been very special to me for a long stretch of my life is also a person from whom I learned many things. Her most important lesson, though, was an inadvertent one. We were quite alike, the two of us, and early on I recognized in her the darker side of myself. What I gained from her was a template for the person I did not want to be, and so I began to adjust my choices, to move in a direction that pushed me toward that person I preferred to become.
And then there was my mother who, quite sadly, gave her final years to an unhappy life. Many more times than I care to remember she said to me, "I spent my whole life looking for tomorrow. And tomorrow never came." Her words are a weight I carry with me still. But also was her message heard.
Earlier I asserted that I don't have a narrative, but perhaps I do have one one after all. It doesn't come to me in words I recognize, but it's there, its own sort of pentimento, under the surface, but bleeding through. Move forward, it says. Move forward in a way you won't regret.
Do you have a narrative? I'm not asking you to tell me. Just ask the question of yourself.
Nancy Carol Moody
I'm a poet and a letter-writer. Yup, that kind. The kind who uses pens and paper and actual stamps. The kind who will leave the house with nothing on the agenda but to get to the mailbox before the scheduled pick-up time. The kind who understands that technology is a wondrous thing, but nothing quite beats finding a real letter with a real stamp on it amid the credit card solicitations, pizza coupons and seminar catalogs.