Everyone knows that the stories we tell about our lives are constructions. They are a way of stringing together what we take to be facts into a tale that helps us to explain ourselves or perhaps to project the image that we want others to have of us. Facts in themselves mean nothing. They are like a floor full of scattered beads; until we link them all together in some configuration, they make no sense. This is a problem not just for writers of memoir and autobiography but for historians, philosophers and archaeologists as well, and as such not one that is going to be solved in a blog post. What I wanted to do was to simulate how it is to arrange these events to tell a story.
If you were to take ten events from your life, write them on slips of paper and throw them in a baseball cap, would your best friend, daughter or significant other be able put them order. I thought I’d try. To make this a bit easier, I will take events not strictly from my life but from that of the Northen family of my generation. Just number them from 1 to 10 in the order that you think happened. (Hint - #1 is a gimme.)
___Steve was killed in a car accident.
___A fire burned down the garage and back bedroom of the house where we were living.
___Our family lived in
___Dave got married (first time).
___Mom was hospitalized with a blood clot for six months and nearly died.
___Brother Pat was born.
___Maya was baptized at
San Juan Capistrano mission.
___Judy moved to
___I was hit by a car driven by an uninsured 16 year old girl.
___Dad joined the Navy.
Even when you have a sequence, though, it is still not a story. What are the connections? What are the causes/effects? What is missing and how are the gaps filled in? As a writer, and to a lesser extent, an amateur genealogist, these are the really interesting questions. Given this bare set of facts or the bare facts of your life and fueled by their own imagination, what story would your son or daughter write?
Answers: 7, 5, 2, 8, 3, 6, 10, 9, 4, 1