Secrets or stories? Who decides?

In the film The Stories we Tell director Sarah Polley interviews members of her family & their circle about events in their history. She plays with the documentary genre in artful & artistic ways. While it begins as a film about her father and her dead mother it becomes a detective story about Polley’s own beginnings. Different people answer her questions in often contradictory ways as events and circumstances are re-assessed. The film raises questions like “who owns our stories? whose stories are they to tell?”.

line art example of concentric.
Photo credit: Wikipedia

An interviewee talks about concentric circles of ownership. The inner circle consists of only the people who were involved in an event (participants), the next circle contains people who were told by those involved, further out are the people who became aware of the story in some other way.

He espouses the view that only the participants own the story and the right to tell or not tell (in which case the film would never have been made).

What about people who are affected but are not the active participants? Some people have ambiguous stories about their beginnings – perhaps because of trauma in childhood, adoption, displacement, loss. Who gets to own or tell their stories?

Journal Prompt:

1) Write about an event or relationship from some time in your life (either something you remember or something you’ve been told about). Write in the first person

2) Re-write it from the perspective of another participant.

3) Write it a third time from the perspective of someone not a participant but who would have known about it, either at the time or later.

An article in the New York Times comments on research that shows:

The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.

Journal prompt: Write down a family story – one that’s part of your family narrative, the kind

English: Classical Seven-Circuit Labyrinth
English: Classical Seven-Circuit Labyrinth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 of story that gets re-told at family gatherings.

Is there anyone you could share your writing with? Would they agree with your version?

Who decides what is the truth of the accepted family narrative? In novels the truth is sometimes revealed, as in Elizabeth Strout‘s recent novel The Burgess Boys (where people have to re-evaluate their lives and constructed identities as a result)  or not, as in Sarah Butler’s 10 Things I’ve Learnt about Love (a novel with Lists of 10 between each chapter – a useful journal technique when short of time!)

Perhaps it is only by writing the story or making the film that we know what our story is and begin to own it……

Too many books….

This week I’m reading too many books.

It’s all the fault of Boulder Public Library. Suddenly a large number of the books I’d requested over the last few weeks/months arrived, all at once. There were books read about (in The New York Times, London Review of Books etc), heard about (on NPR, recommended by friends & colleagues), remembered from some distant time. They all go on my “Holds” list, and eventually they all turn up. Books borrowed, unlike books bought, have to be read on some kind of realistic timescale which is why this week I find myself simultaneously reading:

Katherine Boo – behind the beautiful forevers: life, death & hope in a mumbai undercity

Because I know Mumbai and I like non-fiction that reads like a novel and was wonderfully reviewed everywhere.

J-P Sartre – What is Literature?

For something I’m writing on Existential thought & journal therapy

Ellen Ullman – By Blood

A novel in which a professor eavesdrops on his psychoanalyst neighbour and her client. It turns out to be a search for birth mother narrative & a holocaust narrative… and identity & SanFrancisco

Virginia WoolfMoments of Being

Because I thought I remembered something but I haven’t found it yet.

Elizabeth Weil – No cheating, no dying; I had a good marriage. Then I tried to make it better.

Because it sounded interesting on NPR…….It turns out to be an Eat Pray Love kind of book where the author undertakes various experiences in order to write a book.

So many books (and that’s not counting the ones I was reading before) – I wonder how they’ll all end (or if I’ll find out before they have to be returned). And I need to get on before the next lot of requests arrive…..

What are you reading that you recommend I add to my list?

Thank you, libraries, I couldn’t have supported my lifelong reading habit without you.  That’s something I got from my father.

Here’s a journal prompt I’ve adapted from one or more of the books above:

My parents had given me what they’d known to give: eight weeks of summer overnight camp, a good education, unconditional love and trust.

What did you get from your parents?

Write it in the form of an unsent letter. [What’s the First rule of Unsent Letters? That’s right, they never-ever get sent.]