Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Real Story

It matters how you choose to tell a story.

I grew up with a historian for a father and an English teacher for a mother, so I could hardly get away without picking up on this! I've been particularly aware of seeing this in action over the past couple of years as I worked on two self-publishing projects with my father. One project was organizing my mother's autobiographical writings -- how she chose to tell her story. The other was my father's biography of his parents and family. With the biography, I was privileged to see some of the selection process at work: how he organized details to support the themes he'd identified in his parents' lives, which stories he opted to present and which he considered presenting but decided not to include after all.

Of course, in blogging about our experiences with Joy, I'm doing that all the time. Choosing what is important enough to tell, and might inform or entertain or make you think or all of the above, and what's on my mind about Joy that I might appropriately process here, and what have I learned that I might usefully share with you, and what is the truth of our journey as I see it? (The latter of which may sound odd coming from behind a pseudonym, but that too is one reality of my particular mommy-blogging enterprise.)

I'm thinking about all this in context of a powerful post last week from the amazing Jess who writes of her beautiful daughter Brooke at a diary of a mom. And in fact, the title of the post was "Context." She writes of a birthday party where her daughter made some tremendous strides forward, but also sat apart from the group, with her differences written all over her face. The real story of the party, as Jess felt and experienced it, was the context and backdrop of difference. How hard it is, and will continue to be. Among several potential real stories, the hard story was the real one that day.

It resonates. (Just read the comments on the post if there were any doubt!)

And yet.

It makes me think to ask: What is the real story with Joy?

We can choose how we story-tell on a blog -- but to what extent do we get to choose what is the real story?

We've had some radically-conflicting storylines to choose from here lately. Is the real story that Joy is getting more independent with the steps in her potty routine, and happily sitting much longer in the mornings (up to 15 minutes!)? Or is the real story that she hasn't actually produced on the pot for three weeks, and that she likes to splash the handwash-water and lick the liquid soap and drop things into the toilet?

Is the real story that she continues to imitate words, and play peek-games, and generally be more interactive? Or is it the upswing in aggressive behaviors that are causing her to lash out with hair-pulling and hitting at the least bit of frustration, catching peers and adults alike in her wrath, mere weeks before she starts kindergarten?

There are absolutely moments when it feels as if the real story is all about disability and difference and struggle and heartache.

But I personally feel a strong need to choose for a real story of hope, and progress on her own terms and at her own pace, and shining eyes and giggles and playful beeps on her sister's nose. If I let myself inhabit the darker story too much, too consistently, too often -- I'm afraid I won't be the person I want to be. Nor will I be the mother she needs me to be.

What do you think? To what extent do we get an authentic say in the choice of the real story?


jess said...

I think they're ALL the 'real story' - or at least facets of it. What we choose is the perspective from which we tell them.

I don't spend much time dwelling in the dark places. Though some measure of fear or sadness or frustration may be part of the fabric of my life, they are usually much smaller threads than hope and joy, celebration and gratitude.

But on that one day, the fear cast a shadow that was too wide to ignore. It would have felt disingenuous to write that post without acknowledging it. It was the elephant in the room for me.

So though I am usually upbeat and choose to pinpoint my focus on Brooke's amazing progress, sometimes the lens inevitably widens out. And when it does, it can be hard to take in.

That post in an of itself doesn't define my experience (I guess my point is that no one story could.) It certainly doesn't define my daughters. But it was the truth of that moment from where I sat that day.

Our lives are three dimensional. The nice thing about writing a blog is that while we may be parsing stories, we're doing it post by post. Each one starts with a blinking cursor on a blank page. There need not be an overarching theme that we are trying to support. We can just write - day to day - from whever we are as we sit down to type. I, for one am grateful for that. I think it allows us an honesty - or authenticity, to use your word - that nothing else really can.

And there you have it, the longest comment in history. Can we get a ruling on that? ;)


Niksmom said...

As Jess said, I think it's all the real story. It isn't even up to us to determine what's real, IMO, but to roll with whatever comes our way. I think, much like any good story-teller, it's up to us to gauge the audience, the listener/reader, and to determine what we want to shine the spotlight on in any given moment.

I like to try to focus on the positive simply because the memory of goodness and the promise of hope make the less-stellar moments easier to weather.

I think, if we look deeply enough into ANY life story,we will find that every story is more complex than we can possibly capture in one ro two vignettes. We each have our darkness and our light. our yin and yang. We simply don't shed light on the full scope for all to see. It would be too much to take in, I think.

(Ha! I hadn't set out to compete with Jess for longest comment but...I think she still wins! ;-) )

Floortime Lite Mama said...

this post was an absolute treat

"If I let myself inhabit the darker story too much, too consistently, too often -- I'm afraid I won't be the person I want to be. Nor will I be the mother she needs me to be."

Brilliant thought

I think there are many true stories about the same thing

Anonymous said...

My couple of thoughts - acknowledging my thoughts are tangential....

Choosing hope and progress is the real you.

For some reasons, this reminds of a book I've heard about but have not read: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Which, I am told, speaks to the decision point of whether to go on or go back. A choice that shows who the real person is.

Also, recently, I read someone, some blogger, oh, I just remembered who - starrlife at Life Decanted - who said: blogging is not journalism. Real. Yea. Illusive or self-defined?

Stopping my ramble with the sheer force of self-discipline - that's the real me. BRatK

JoyMama said...

Jess - good point that blogging lends itself to posting day-to-day, wherever you are.

Sometimes those wherever-we-ares are very different from the wherever-we-weres even the day before. Contradictory, complex, much like life!

Though we need not build the overarching themes via blog (perhaps that is a task more suited to memoir), sometimes the individual posts do speak to such themes -- identifying what the long-term thematic trajectory feels like... on that day.

My post also kind of conflates the story-telling we do on the blogs and the deeper story-telling that is how we construct our lives. Those two may be related but may also be very different (cf Barbara "blogging is not journalism")

Long comments R us! There have been some ultra-long comments in the past, but Jess, yours is definitely a contender!

rhemashope said...

such a thought-provoking post! i have come to cherish and depend on (what i see as) the theme of this blog-- one of hope, honesty, celebration of progress, love of a family. and we have Joy to thank for it! the two of you help/challenge me to see the good in the misdt of the "bad" and "hard". and the good is good, so good.

i've had the pleasure of reading some of your mother's writings. her story, her life, her perspective have stayed with me, J. imo, she has everything to do with how you have chosen to live and tell your own family's story.


Elizabeth Channel said...

For me, the real story is His story, and infusing hope and faith in how you tell your part in that story tells the bigger story. That's what you do and why I return to your blog time and time again.

You are authentic, hopeful and faithful.

Anonymous said...

I have respect for parents who tell the true day to day accounts of what autism is really like dealing with. The glossed over "we're nothing less than perfect" or "praise the lord we love autism" accounts are B.S. in IMO. Those moms are more concerned with the image on their blogs than getting the truth out.

JoyMama said...

Anonymous - your comment reminds me of the perennial debate about holiday form letters that erupts each December. Apparently some people actually write form letters that exist only to brag about their perfect children and their amazing promotion and their vacations to Jamaica and the Riviera!

I've never gotten (or written) a holiday form letter like that -- I guess I hang with people who use their annual letters as an opportunity to reflect on both the ups and the downs. The same way with autism blogs: I don't know anyone claiming perfection, and if I ever ran across such an autism blog, I wouldn't follow it! But unremitting struggle and pain isn't my "true" story of autism either.

In the end, we each get to choose what kind of storytelling we're going to engage in, and also what storytelling we're going to respect.