Sunday, July 13, 2008

Stabilizing the Narrative

I had a fascinating conversation this weekend, about 45% of which I actually understood. Who knows what would have happened if I understood the whole thing. We talked about ontology, psychology, postmodernism, art, and physics. It all started when I mentioned how the therapist part of me and the writer part of me have been been coming together and I've discovered that A) they want to work together more, and B) they want to be supported by others in those efforts to do so.
In the world of counseling, we call this validation. Well, my conversation partner began explaining what he knows of cognitive science and ontology (he's brilliant). He talked about how most of us refer to the self in terms of internal, private experiences and roles that don't change much. Then he said some stuff I didn't really understand. Then he said something I sort of understood about science often trying to account for change when what we really ought to be doing is accounting for stability. He explained stability as a relative concept and said some more stuff I didn't much understand about postmodernism and how it messes with our own ability to be change agents in our lives because of something about relative reality.
Then he said the reason we talk to people or tell stories at all is we are all trying to stabilize our own narratives. That I understood. In my head and in my core. The meaning of stabilizing one's own narrative is so much deeper and more complex than simply seeking validation. Thinking of your life as a narrative, when the plot line takes a twist, the story becomes destabilized. Who we are is in large part reflected back by the people around us. If our roles, interests, or our very lives are altered, what do the people around us reflect back? Can a parent who has lost a child still be friends with the other parents from the block? It depends on if both sets of parents can absorb that change in the narrative. If you decide to move, change jobs, or change relationships, will you be successful? A big part of the answer to that is finding ways to support your narrative.
Who we are even changes as a result from little things like losing weight or changing hobbies. And the people around us can feel destabilized by those changes rather than being able to absorb them. (What do you mean you don't want chocolate? You haven't written in how long?).
As the self changes, it looks for some force around it that has very little relative change. Big changes for the main character of your life (who is also the author: you) mean big changes for your story. I don't know as much about fiction as I'd like, but I do know that the story falls apart when there's a wild plot twist that isn't absorbed by the dialog, characterization, setting, or pacing of the narrative. The tricky part so far seems to be that to get the narrative to stabilize and balance the change for the main character change may need to occur relative to the other components of the story, all of which are elements in their own stories and the stories of others as well.

1 comment:

Dianne Adams said...

Wow! You've certainly put a lot out there to think about. I will be coming back to this post a few times because there's so much to absorb. I've had some life-changing twists and turns during the last few years and you've given me some insights to ponder.