The Stories We Tell Ourselves // Trina O'Gorman

The Stories We Tell Ourselves // Trina O'Gorman

Joan Didion, who would now be in her 80s, is a good friend of mine. Of course, she doesn’t know this. In fact, I’ve never even met her, but we’ve conversed many times. She has spoken to me through her collections of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album. Well, perhaps she is not speaking to me personally, but I feel that she is, and I feel that she is one of my closest “friends in my head.” So much of what she has written about writing and self-examination and personal discovery resonates with me that I feel that she must know me and that I know myself better as a result of reading her essays.
So, the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is its now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess. At no point have I ever been able successfully to keep a diary; my approach to daily life ranges from grossly negligent to the merely absent, and on those few occasions when I have tried dutifully to record a day’s events, boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best. What is this business about “shopping, typing pieces, dinner with E, depressed”? Shopping for what? Typing what piece? Who is E? Was this “E” depressed, or was I depressed? Who cares?

In fact I have abandoned altogether that kind of pointless entry; instead I tell what some would call lies. “That’s simply not true,” the members of my family frequently tell me when they come up against my memory of a shared event. “The party was not for you, the spider was not a black widow, it wasn’t that way at all.” Very likely they are right, for not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remained unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matter.” Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, “ On Keeping A Notebook.”

Researchers and psychologists are telling us that editing or rewriting our life stories can help us live happier lives. What this translates into is changing the stories in ways that help us reconstruct our reality, thus shifting our perspectives, so we might understand things in ways that are more constructive and positive. But Joan Didion published the piece, from which this excerpt is taken, in 1968, and I myself was born just a year before that in 1967 and began keeping a notebook when I was about nine years old. I never called my notebook a diary or a journal. I, like Didion, failed miserably at keeping factual accounts of my days. I found it to be amazing tedious and boring the few times I attempted to keep what I considered to be a “diary” in the truest sense of the word. Still, I wrote everything down, in what I simply called a notebook.

But the idea of editing our life stories or telling lies, as Joan might call it, is nothing new, though it has recently gained a new popularity

We must remember that there is no absolute truth or reality. That everything that we know, every minute matter of stimuli, comes through the filter of all that we have experienced before as individuals, and what is true to us or reality to us is actually a unique distortion of what has actually occurred. And others, who may have shared that very same experience with us, may have an entirely different interpretation of what happened. It happens all the time. Two people were in the same place, experiencing the same thing, and will tell you two different stories about what happened. We often say the truth lies something therein but does it really?

As we enter into 2017, HAPPY NEW YEAR, people are setting new goals and resolutions, many of which will fall by wayside by February. We see it in the gym all the time — the surge in membership and numbers of people working out, which suddenly drops significantly by the fifth week of the month. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good goal and set them all the time. Some of them I accomplish and others I don’t. Often what stands in the way of me achieving a new goal are the old stories I’m telling myself.

For example, say I want to be more organized in 2017, it’s because I am not as organized as I would currently like to be, and there are reasons why I’m not as organized as I want to be. These reasons essentially support my disorganization and they inform the stories I tell myself. The stories I tell myself, you know the ones where I’m disorganized because ______________________, help me establish my reality. It will also if I keep telling the same story, prevent me from reaching my goal of being organized in 2017.

Changing your stories, maybe not all of them, but even just some of them will give you a new lease on life. Depending on the impact a certain story has on your life, changing your story could mean the difference between succeeding or failing, having a satisfying or dissatisfying relationship, creating strong emotional bonds or being unable to create healthy bonds, and so forth. 

And so what does this have to do with writing and traveler’s notebooks, which are my thing? Everything. Telling lies sounds bad, editing your life story sounds productive and empowering, and they are essentially the same thing, and as I share in my upcoming workshop, the magic can happen in your notebook. My notebook has been my near-constant companion on this journey called “life,” and as I chronicle my adventures, I sometimes bend the truth and other times tell outright lies, knowing full well that I’ve added a different ending or given a personal characteristics that he or she doesn’t even have, all for the purpose of self-empowerment.

Create the world in which you want to live and you will live the life that you want to live or come close to it. We are not at the mercy of our fears and negative thoughts, though they often creep in and take over coloring and influencing everything that we do. It’s so easy to let that happen. But be mindful of what you put in your beloved notebook. While expressive writing can be helpful, as in writing about a traumatic or negative experience, living in them long-term and allowing them to impact our future choices can do the opposite. However, writing about them, as a way of letting go, or writing about them to edit them, can be enriching.

I have started to turn over a new leaf for 2017 and here are some of the analog tools that are making me smile, along with some suggestions of what you can add to your own notebook:

Add things that actually make you smile. 
The McGill Clips by Tools to Liveby are all over my notebook, holding slips of paper, but mainly being gorgeous. I love paper clips because they can be well designed and useful at the same time.
Seek inspiration.
My son gave me a collection of wonderful quotes that he printed on business card sized paper, that I will add throughout my notebook. Some I will keep in the card file and others I will stick here and there in Film Pocket Stickers. 
Write about yourself as the person you want to be.
Write often about the things you are grateful for. 
I’ll be doing most of my writing in the grid refills, which are my favorite.
Only collect and keep what makes you remember and smile. 

I’ll be doing some of this in my Midori Kangaroo notebook, which I’m so excited to finally put to use. The eyelets and string will be the perfect way to keep them closed. 
Let go of all the extras, as they can bog us down. 
Write about your achievements and daily highlights. 
Write an amazing story about your life journey in 2017. Happy New Year!
Written by: 
Trina O'Gorman


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