The first time I publicly shared my story was an inadvertent sharing. I’d started an Instagram account with my students to discuss and explore the impact of social media. As a class, we decided to use my notebook as the focal point of the account because I always had it with me in class. One of my students was a photography major and I was an amateur photography buff, so we love the challenge of trying to take photos of the notebook that would be interesting and garner “likes.” This was six years ago. I remember that we were so amused and amazed that a notebook, on its own, could generate a following.
And we continued doing that for the entire unit, once we were done studying it in class, I kept going. I had always loved my notebook and the fact that it had an account gave me some to do that distracted me from my problems. One day, I opened it up and photographed it laying flat with the writing exposed. I personally loved the sight of the written word and thought it would make an aesthetically pleasing picture. It did. It got a lot of attention. I honestly thought the writing was actually too small for anyone to read, not realizing that one could zoom in on the words. It wasn’t until people started to comment on what was written that I realized I’d shared the contents of my journal with others. Behind the scenes, I was dealing with the very painful and difficult breakdown of my marriage, something I’d kept very private, even with friends. Now, something that began as an experiment in a writing class had resulted in me putting my personal life on display.
But as much as I was on display, I found value in the fact that my story resonated with others. Not only did it help me to feel not so alone, but I felt like it helped others as well. I was writing to give meaning to what I was going through and to make sense of the things that were happening in my life, but at the time I felt so alone. Not only did I feel alone, at the time, I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I honestly felt as if no one could possibly understand what I was going through. But people did. People connected with my story. Some had been through similar things themselves and that made me feel so alone. Reading my stories made other people feel like they could open up about their own lives. Still, others offered me support, which was much needed at the time. And, of course, I think for some, watching the train wreck that was my life, was entertainment or a distraction from their own lives, not really my intention or goal, but I suppose there's some value in that, as well.
And so began the public telling of my story, a class experiment that lasted for years and has taught me so much, so much about the value of story.
Story is what connects us as human beings. Unless we are bound as a family, story is usually the basis for mostly all bonded human relationships. When we first meet a potential romantic partner, new teacher, potential employer, new neighbor, or a friend, they want to know who we are. “Tell me something about yourself,” they might say, in so many words. And so, we begin, crafting a story of some length to give a stranger some sense of who we are, and then we are no longer strangers. We tell stories all day. Some are serious. Some are informative or persuasive. Some of them are funny. We tell all kinds of stories.
We are connected by the stories that we’ve created and shared with others. And we need others for our very survival. And that’s really quite powerful when you think about it, how stories connect us, and how we need those connections to survive, to exist. That is profound on a deep and existential level.
Not all stories that connect have to be stories of trauma and adversity or feel quite so serious and profound. In early October, I began toying with the idea of changing notebooks. After six years of using a Traveler’s Company Traveler’s Notebook, I thought about trying something different. On October 7th, I emailed Wakako at Baum-kuchen to inquire about a zippered organizer made by The Superior Labor that I’d seen on the studio’s website. In my email, I told her what I was looking for and she suggested a number of options. Eventually, I decided on the yellow TSL Zip Organizer, which was the subject of a recent unboxing on my Instagram account.
On the same day that it arrived and I made that video, I also emailed Wakako, asking her to tell me more about the company that made the organizer, The Superior Labor. The email that she sent back was about five or six paragraphs long and told a story that began with her discovery of her The Superior Labor Engineer Shoulder Bag that she’d purchased in Tokyo at one of the backstreet shops during a visit to Japan. I was so drawn in by her narrative, so much so that I read it more than once. There is a line in her narrative that resonated with me on so many levels. She wrote, “The only way I can describe [it] is that I feel that there is a soul in each artifact they produce.” This was in reference to the warmth that she felt when she picked up a TSL artifact. When she sent that email, I’d only had my organizer for a few hours, but I knew exactly what she meant. Today, more than a week later, I can truly agree with her.
Perhaps these handmade artifacts have stories to tell, and that’s what gives them their warmth and their soul because I feel that same way about storytelling and story. I feel like stories are at the core, the soul, of who we are as individuals and human beings -- even a story about something as simple as discovering a bag in a shop and connecting it to my zippered organizer, which connects the organizer to the bag and me to Wakako and shop on the backstreet of Tokyo, somehow connecting us as human beings.