I was teaching a class on novel-writing. One student was writing about three generations of women who all married men they didn’t love. The book was largely autobiographical. For that reason she was unwilling to make many changes. As I continued to listen to her, I realized that her family seemingly encouraged stories of my-misery-is-worse-than-your-misery. That meant marrying a man you didn’t love was a prerequisite and the novel was actually a one-up in those tales of woe.
In my family, we tell love stories. My husband and I have polished a small incident from our courtship as our contribution. Also unlike my student, as a child, I was never allowed to tell an oh-dear-me more than once. I could get it off my chest, so to speak, but not repeat it.
Who decides how the family stories will be told–how YOUR story will be told?
I never got my student to see the pattern in her book, but I’ve been haunted, ever since, with the idea that family stories shape us. We expect our lives to turn out like the stories we’ve heard.
I am currently working on a book about the power of family stories. Alarmed by how my student had been seemingly trapped by her family’s stories, I went in search of my own, asking questions about why we tell the stories we tell and what difference that makes, both good and bad. It’s an exercise I recommend. It will change your life!
The book is tentatively titled PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR FAIRY GODMOTHER.