What are we to ourselves but a story? We are a thing, of course, a body, this solid object that moves about in the world. But a dog has such a presence, a rock, a tree. We are something more, even amongst other people. We are ourselves. Unique. And that uniqueness is understood best as our story of ourself, of our life and who we are.
We are, in a sense, our memories. We are as much lies as truth. Our memories are tricky things, as full of fiction as they are of fact. We might think of ourselves as objective, but that objectivity always floats in a vast sea of subjectivity. We, each of us, recall things differently. It was a black car. It was a grey car. It was a green car. It was a blue car.
We lie to ourselves, we lie without even knowing it. Fiction is a necessity of proper functioning. The vast complexity of the world, of our experiences, is overwhelming. The sheer weight of sensory perceptions is enough to bury us. Every event, every word, every breath. It is too much. The mind seeks to organize, to make sense of all that is around us. It begins to cut corners. A dodge here and there. Who will notice?
We are born. A great panoply of life unfolds. We die. But this story is difficult to understand. It’s a feast we can’t taste all at once. The mind breaks things up. It makes stories of our experience. It designates beginnings and endings. The story, for instance, of how we met our most beloved significant others. When does it start? What led us there? Can we even comprehend the multitude of influencing factors? This is beyond us. And so we tell a story to ourselves. One day I was walking along and tripped over this strange person, who looked up at me…
We fashion stories, consciously and unconsciously. We narrate, we simplify, we condense. Memory is a simplified version of reality. I met her, but this other goombah liked her too, I had to be convincing and I was, we started dating, we got married… we have delineated a shape: the beginning, the conflict, the rising action, the climax, the denouement. And what if details slip us? We seem to remember what makes sense, we fabricate, we guess, we approximate. We are our memories, we are the stories we tell ourselves, and we want it to be a good story. We remember what’s best for the story. We make it work. We make it fit.
This is us, this is our past. A weave of stories, of shapes we’ve placed on our own experience. This is where we’ve come from. And if this is how we shape the past, it is also how we predict the future.
Our minds extrapolate. They can turn from the past to the open possibility of now and of what is yet to come. What if that person on the bus has a gun? What then? A beginning. The mind extrapolates, pulling elements from the millions of stories it has already created to fill out the blank spaces of possibility. That couple talking… what are they saying? Are they in love? What is the nature of love?
Extrapolations become more complex. The conscious and the unconscious blur together (if they were ever truly apart). We have creation. We want a story, and we want to make it real. Not simply a veil of possibility draped between firing neurons, but something solid. Something we can experience, and something that others can experience too.
We tell a story, shape it with words. We want more than the unconscious shapings and simplifications. We want to find meanings and patterns in the vastness of experience. We want to actively search it out. We filter the world. We make beginnings and endings. We sift for meaning, for purpose. We distill ourselves in fiction, and yet if we do it well the stories we devise might be more true even than the lying facts of memory.
The world calls to us and we make beginnings and endings.
We tell a story.