Discover your Through Line

Path, Rural, Nature, Road, Countryside

We have been exploring Life Story narratives. We each have one; it is the dynamic, ever emerging story of your life! Life stories are as rich and full of meaning and drama as the most daring adventure tale or the most profound mythic Quest.

You are the author, editor, and the key protagonist, along with your significant relations, of your own epic tale. This week let’s add an authorial tip: find your Through Line. A through line is a simple statement that concisely encapsulates what your entire book or story is about.  When editing a story, keeping your story’s through line in mind can guide you to remove extraneous material from your text. The rule of thumb is: if a passage does not advance the plot and reflect the through line, leave it out.  This brings a more refined and compelling focus to your story, keeping it true to the storyline or plot structure you are meaning to convey.

What might a through line look like for a life story narrative; particularly, yours?  To discover the through line of any story, you can ask, ‘What is this story all about, in a nutshell?’ A through line should be concise, no longer than a single clause or sentence. 

Arrangement, Butterfly, Aesthetics

For example, consider the movie Castaway (one of my favorite ‘transformational story’ tales). What is it all about, in a nutshell?  I would say (and it could have a different meaning for you): “A man has a life altering experience from being stranded on a remote island as a ‘castaway’ for five years.” This through line makes sense of the entire Castaway story: what Chuck Noland’s life is like before the plane crash that strands him on a remote island; how his life experiences on the island challenge him and lead him to develop a capacity to be a resilient survivor who values life at all costs; and how his life has been altered by his castaway experience once he returns to ‘civilized’ life.   This storyline also carries a universal message when you consider how ultimately we are each alone with our own deepest challenges.

Message, Bottle, Cork, Letter, Scroll, Castaway, Rescue

So, what has your Life Story been about (up to now, at least), in a nutshell? You might revisit last week’s blog asking you to give a Title to your Life Story, and phrase your question around that title, or simply encapsulate how you think about your Life Story to date from your present perspective. You might also want to give yourself a heroic name to cast your through line in a third person format; this can help to bring you to a level of oversight or objective insight about your life AS story.

For example, the title I gave to my life story last week was A Merry (Carousel) Ride. My through line could be:  Jeannne (cf. Joan of Arc) learns to ride the Ups and Downs of life, always seeking to find Balance and Meaning, linking Heaven and Earth as a spiritual adventure.

Horse, Carousel, Carousel Horse, Fair
images are from pixabay.com

That is my quest, in a nutshell. How about YOU? You may use the Better Endings Story Seed prompt in the right panel to contemplate and/or journal about your own Life Story narrative. I welcome your feedback and comments on your own engagement with this tool.

A Better Ending for Your Life Story? Make It Epic!

Chalkboard, Story, Blogging, Believe, Blackboard, Chalk

How might you express the plot structure so far of your Life Story? Could you give it a title? What would that be? Based on where you have been, who you are now, and the direction your Life Story appears to be taking, give a title to your overall Life Story based on your present point of view.

It may help to use a Life Metaphor as a title. For example, one of my favorite life metaphors is Life is a Carousel Ride (hence the blog banner). So I could call my life story A Merry Ride. I like that!

Is your Life Story more like a Roller Coaster, a Grand Quest, or maybe an Open Path? Using a life metaphor or some other descriptive phrase, give a title to your Life Story to date.

Vintage, Book Illustration, Literature, Shakespeare

Now then, what about adding a Better Ending? Make it epic! When you look ahead at the story board of your Life Story, what would you like to write in to express how you will follow your bliss, attain fulfillment of your life mission or purpose, and Live Your Dream? Remember, you are the author, editor and the key protagonist of your own epic tale!

Give a title then to a later (though not necessarily the final) Life Chapter for your personal life journey quest. As an example, mine might be: “Making a Difference.” (This is because for much of my life I have been asking of my own accomplishments, “What difference does it make?”)

Cloud, Sky, Heart, Blue, Love

Reviewing or telling your story AS a Life Story narrative can help you to recognize where you are at now in relation to where you are intending to arrive as you unravel the many colored threads of your amazing life experience. As Martha Graham is famous for having reminded us all (I used to have this pinned on my office bulletin board):

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”

Hot Air Balloons, Adventure, Balloons
images are from pixabay.com

So, Make it Epic! It is YOUR life to live, your story to tell!

Hook Your Wagon to a Star

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When I was in graduate school in Buffalo, I had a little yellow Puch moped for transportation. When I would ride as needed in heavy traffic, I used to remember a ine from Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage:

Hook your wagon

to a Star.

“Hook your moped to a Mack Truck!” I would substitute mentally, hugging the wake of a large truck for security on the road against faster moving cars whose drivers often would disregard my little moped.

There was a principle involved. ‘Hooking my moped to a truck’ meant, to me, living in tandem with Spirit. Active choice plus faith in helping to bring about the most positive potentials of any life situation have carried me along on this journey, so far,  through relationships with people, my animal friends, and places I could not have foreseen and yet now, I will never forsake or forget.

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So, again, having recently set out on an unknown highway to encounter places and people unknown, I must trust in Spirit, surrender my fears, be grateful for what IS, and enjoy the adventure.

In the process I am relearning some basic lessons: acceptance of change, gratitude for what is permanent, willingness to forge ahead, one small footstep at a time.

I am also unlearning now. This new process has only begun, yet I am already unlearning what had only seemed most solid; peering ahead to where I had assumed was No-thing. Yet here it is, I am, Life is, even Love is, yet not at all as I had imagined it might be. Spirit leads me onward–not necessarily forward as I would have expected, yet onward inexorably nevertheless.

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images are from pixabay.com

I do not know what lies ahead; I must simply release what was before yet carry forth, not memories so much as a dim awareness of the certainty of love itself, of life itself as Spirit. New life birthing yet of the same indelible fabric that weaves through us all.

Thank you to all who have shared with me to any extent this lifetime of human (and broader!) experience. Thank You with love for all you Are!

Your Life As History

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Monday I felt I just had to go out to find the film Julie & Julia, as it is an appropriate parallel story for an enterprising author and for any blogger, of course. I streamed the movie and found the most relevant element for me to absorb was about the long process Julia Child undertook to transform American sensibilities in relation to more than just French cooking.  She was introducing a style, literally making palatable an attitude as well as a culinary revolution akin to the sexual liberation movement that developed in tandem with this European flair.

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What is a writer or an artist if not an innovator and somewhat of a provocateur? Julia’s persistence over many years of developing her talents and composing her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), served her well (not a pun! well, maybe so).  She merged American gastronomic desires for nouveaux choses with traditional rural French cuisine in a manner that freed not only the taste buds but as well the fertile imagination of Americans after WWII had already begun to open up for us new territories of European philosophical thought and literature/ culture. Spiritually I must infer this was no accident. Julia Child was the right person for the task she undertook with her grace and fortitude plus her special brand of loving, even lovably awkward humor.

Bridge with Buildings and Fireworks

The parallel mythic aspects of Julie and Julia in relation to my own current life activity are obvious to me but that’s personal; not worth expounding here. Her perseverance and persistence despite the opposition she first encountered to a new approach that blended sensibilities rather than merely presenting one style in a didactic way offers lessons for many of us.

It was telling to see how Nora Ephron (screenwriter) drew parallel mythic connections in her screenplay between Julie Powell and Julia Child’s lives quite explicitly, fusing two historical epochs of an American in Paris from 1944-1961 with New York City in 2002, just after the 2001 Twin Towers disaster.

Our own story can merge with history itself in fundamentally useful ways. Julie Powell’s blog about cooking all of the recipes from Julia Child’s book in a year sparked the imagination of readers ready for a fresh inspiration to go beyond routine with a license to revitalize their passions. Powell actually worked for an agency helping victims from the Twin Towers attack to recover their own lives, so it is fascinating how she was led to intersect her own life and imagination with the life and times of Julia Child. Are there any accidents? I believe in co-incidence instead.

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So, where does your Life Story stand positioned in the ongoing flow of human history? I know, that’s a big question. But of course our personal life history narratives are and must be understood at some level as products of History itself.

But how to unpack this? Just a brief musing (I invite you to write your own reflections…):

Born in 1954, I experienced the 1960’s while in highschool in Lewiston, New York. I started a Human Relations Club there to honor and punctuate the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. within a mainly “Lilywhite” community. This along with a 10th grade class by one of my best early mentors (my English teacher, Mr. Scelsa)–in which for half the year we studied the Black literary Renaissance–led me to develop a sensitivity to issues of diversity in all forms. This was at a time when openness to new ideas was beginning to flourish. The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle, and my next and lifelong mentor (who knows whom he or she is…) led me to want to be a writer, to make a contribution, to “make a difference” really in any way I might. So that led to 21 years of college, studying literature/philosophy,linguistics and cultural anthropology and then moving on to university teaching. These multidisciplinary threads and historical influences have coalesced to an interest in the interplay between cultural psychology and personal cognition, with the notion that we can free ourselves from self-limiting thoughts and behaviors, if we so choose.

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So, what about you? How does your Life Story intersect with History? What are the consequences?

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I welcome your insights and stories!

The Chapters of Your Life Story

 

Kaleidoscopic Butterflies

Summarizing what we have explored so far with this sequence of weekly Life Mapping topics and tools, if you have been participating with the weekly tools you have so far reviewed your Origin Story, engaged in a Vision Quest, and you have had opportunities to identify and reflect about your current Life Metaphor, your Shaping Events, yourTurning Points, and your recurring Life Themes.  All of the insights you have gained from these reflections have laid the grounds for you to discover, this week, the distinct Life Chapters of your Life Story, to Now.

Chapter one

Our lives are of the same stuff that Myths are made of or, as I prefer to say, Myths are made up from the stuff of our lives. That means that you are the central protagonist of your own “life narrative”; each of us is unfolding according to our own dramatic Life Story.

To identify the contours of your Life Chapters, I invite you to first simply list very brief descriptions of your Turning Points chronologically across a page (be sure to use a big enough page to represent these in one visible sequence). Place below each Turning Point representation the age you were when each of these Turning Point events occurred. Creatively, you could use computer clip-art or images cut out from a magazine to represent your Turning Points sequentially across a page, then place your Age at that event below or beside each image.

Next, simply use a ruler or a sheet of paper to draw vertical, solid or dashed lines right beside or through each Turning Point, from near the top of your page to the bottom.

So far, then, your mapping of Turning Points might look something like this:

Life chaps

Now then, I invite you to reflect upon the periods of your life experience that have occurred BETWEEN each of your major Turning Points. From Birth to your first Turning Point experience, for example, what was your life about? Think of yourself as the Author–as you are!–and of this series of events as your Storyline. Be creative and assign CHAPTER TITLES to each of these time frames occurring BETWEEN your Turning Points. Then you can simply create a new mapping that keeps the age demarcations shown on your Turning Points map, but this time place the LIFE CHAPTER titles between each of the Turning Point boundary lines.

So now, your mapping of Life Chapters might look something like this:

LC3

Of course, please be open and flexible to use your own creativity in designing how you might best represent or depict your Life Chapters. Maybe you prefer a pie-chart, or a Spiral, or a pictorial collage of your own design.  This is YOUR composition, so feel free to modify and to elaborate in a way that is meaningful to you!

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(To catch up on previous tools, please see the right panel invitation for any of the past 7 weeks, or click on dates for the past 7 weeks on the calendar below; or you may enter a topical search cue.)