On stories

Diving into reflection and meta reflections

As many of you know, I am currently in a bit of a transition. I finished my job of over 6 years the week before last. I’m just starting the second week of what my friend Doug Belshaw calls ‘funemployment’ – that time in between jobs. Amongst finishing off my current DIY to-do list, and cracking on with a characteristically over ambitious list of creative projects I want to work on, I can’t help getting a bit reflective at this time.

It started, I think, with some reorganisation of my website. I took some time to update how I represented myself online, and I realised that my blog of many years was pretty difficult to browse and explore. So I installed a wordpress plugin that creates an archive page. In front of me was a year-by-year archive of all the posts I’ve ever written and I couldn’t help diving in and exploring that disparate history of thoughts, ideas, events and reflections. It seems like a very simple thing now it is there, but I’d never really seen the whole 13 years of writing laid out in that way. It got me thinking about stories, and then a passage in Stew Fortier’s newsletter really resonated with me.

A while back, I read a quote that said something to the effect of “all of us have experiences, but very few of us have stories.” The author’s point was that we’ve all lived rich and varied lives, but very few of us have spent the time turning our essential experiences into stories we can share with others. A single, well-articulated story about ourselves can tell other people a whole lot of what they need to know about us.- Stew Fortier’s newsletter

I’ve always been fascinated with our relationship with stories. One of the things I found myself re visiting was the lecture I gave when I first visited Plymouth University and shared my story as a teacher with the soon to be education graduates.

To my mind, my blog archive has so many stories. There’s the overarching one that is so obvious to me but probably buried in far too much content and detail to show up to readers. There’s the smaller stories in each collection of posts, and within some posts themselves. I could pull them all together, write them in a more well articulated or concise way, but they would never be quite the same as they were collected at the time. Your perception of things changes so much, and it’s easy to see your story as one coherent narrative looking back.

When you capture bits as you go it’s amazing the insight you get into how differently you thought and felt about certain things at the time. There are times that I remember in one particular way now, but reading back the blog posts from the time I realise that I felt quite differently about them at the time. Reading the original ‘artefacts’, I find myself recalling the mindset and the feelings I had at the time much more clearly, which in turn helps to see how things are different now.

Although I am very aware of the threads of change in my own story, I do find that thinking back I tend to see myself as basically always being much the same as I am now. I see past events through the filter of the experience I’ve had and forget that actually I have changed quite a lot over the years. When I really immerse myself in these memories I have recorded I can, for a short time, really recall not just the events themselves, but how I experienced them and how different that was than it would be experiencing similar things today.

This first struck me a long time ago, when I had recently moved to Plymouth and found myself listening back to an album of music I wrote and produced in my first year of University. This was instrumental electronic music so although a lot of it was written in the context of particular experiences, what it communicated was largely atmosphere and emotion. I had thought back to my university experiences a lot, but listening to those tracks I really found myself inhabiting those memories. I perceived not just what happened but what it felt like to experience those things. It made me realise that the way I felt things had really shifted since that music was written, the way I experienced life had a very different quality.

I don’t think you can really understand this well without quite deeply reflecting on your memories. Not just remembering what happened, but really thinking about the whole experience. I find that artefacts from the time, whether in writing, in music, or captured in some other way, really help to do that and trigger something quite different.

Looking back over these reflections makes me think that I think about reflection itself differently these days. I used to see it as primarily for taking stock of learning, for informing and underpinning whatever came next. Nowadays I see it as just an important part of being, of understanding who you were, and who you are.






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