The story doesn't change what happened. But the story has the remarkable power to completely change our whole relationship to happening.
Today I listened to Donald Davis, a remarkable storyteller, relate the story of his father who, if he had never been "Cripple Joe," would never have become "Banker Joe." As he says in his Ted Talk,
“You must learn that it is never, never tragic when something people think is bad happens to you. Because if you can learn to use it right, it can buy you a ticket to a place you would never have gone any other way.”
This is how I feel sometimes when people ask me how I decided to become a writer. If I had never been "Autism Mom Amy," or "Stroke Victim Amy," I might never have become "Writer Amy."
Having a child diagnosed with autism is regarded by many people as a terrible tragedy. And I'll admit that it has been a challenge, especially in the early years. But the experiences I've had as I've grown into the mother that child needed have given me a depth of empathy, a level of patience, and a knack for observing and analyzing human behavior--skills that are essential to good writing--that I know I never would have achieved in any other way.
The year before my stroke, it seemed as if the blows just kept coming. My mother-in-law lost her battle with cancer. My father-in-law followed within months. A sudden shift in my husband's industry caused business to drop off dramatically and our family's single income shrank to a trickle. I had three surprise pregnancies end in miscarriages--a special kind of heartbreak after many years of infertility and unsuccessful attempts to adopt. Then a clot formed in my brain, stopping all the circulation on the entire right side, and the building pressure behind the blockage blew a hole in a blood vessel. In the aftermath, I was diagnosed with not one, but two uncommon genetic blood clotting disorders. It was overwhelming.
Yet, in many ways, it was the stroke and the inevitable slogging bout of depression that followed that really started me on my writing journey.
Although I could pass a neurological exam with flying colors if I focused enough, the stroke did leave me with some small challenges with spacial processing (which is why I sometimes carry a cane) and a few odd memory quirks. Navigating daily life was exhausting and I found myself spending an unhealthy amount of time sitting in front of the computer playing mindless video games that mostly involved matching three items of the same color--because that was all I had left in me and I couldn't go back to bed yet because people needed me. Some days it felt impossible to get out of bed in the first place.
Eventually, I hit bottom and decided something needed to change. I've learned from long experience that I can't just crawl out of the depression pit one jolly afternoon and make everything be all better--but I can decide to change one thing. (And then one more thing, and then one more . . . but one is enough for a start.) I needed a goal. Something to work toward that had nothing to do with abnormal child development, or behavior management, or brain damage, or laundry, or dishes, or grief.
I had always loved stories--reading them, telling them, making them up to pass the time on those dark nights when I couldn't sleep. And I had always thought it would be all kinds of fun to write a book . . . you know, "someday." I'd even read some books about how to do it. Writing was something I could do during that time when all I had left in me was staring at a computer screen--instead of grouping colored objects, I could group words. And if I grouped enough of them, eventually they'd make sentences, and paragraphs, and maybe I could group enough of them to make a whole book. And, as I'd been recently reminded, we only have so many "somedays" available before we run out. So I started.
Here's something else from Donald Davis's Ted Talk--wisdom from him and his grandmother:
"You're not telling the story to change what happened. You're telling the story to change you. . . . Because when something happens to you, it sits on top of you like a rock. And if you never tell the story, it sits on you forever. But as you begin to tell the story, you begin to climb out from under that rock, and eventually you sit up on top of it. . . . The story doesn't change what happened. But the story has the remarkable power to completely change our whole relationship to happening. "
[starting abt. 14:00]
Telling stories did change me. Even though the books I've written are not my stories, they all contain parts of me. And the very act of storytelling enabled me to look at my own life through different lenses--to try on different relationships between myself and all the things that have happened until I find a relationship that heals me instead of crushing me.
I am no longer the defective victim of a hemorrhagic stroke who will have to take medication for the rest of her life to stave off further tragic damage. Being a storyteller has transformed me into a genuine, documented mutant with a superpower called hypercoagulation which I cleverly suppress with a secret formula because, in an ironic twist of fate, I can use it only against myself.
Because of storytelling, I am no longer a victim. I am . . . a SUPERHERO!
(Just ask my husband and kids.)