Any type of writing – especially my writing because I have a tendency to mess with things ad nauseam – it involves rewrites. Sometimes nit-picky rewrites and sometimes sweeping reimaginings of entire scenes and settings.
It’s meticulous and I (mostly) love it. It can feel daunting, but I love poring over details in my pursuit of just the right words. In fact, add that to my top-values list. Placing words is like doing a puzzle where the pieces are tiny, but precise, and the subtle little click and hold of getting the right one shoots dopamine straight up through my hands into my brain.
One of the most useful things I have ever learned was from Brené Brown (I am positive that exact sentence has been written or said several times a day in too many languages to count since she opened her brilliant mind to us). I think it was in Rising Strong, she talked about “the stories we tell ourselves.” About our past, present, and future. She talked about how we have these involuntary narratives running under everything all the time and how helpful it can be to become aware of even just one of them. Aware and then curious and then we get to decide if it’s a story that’s working for us or not. (I mean she has a whole book about it, you should read it).
Like many people, probably most (I would say all, but I’ve met exceptions), I struggle to tell kind stories about myself. I have put some intention into telling kinder stories about people around me, mostly because I hate confrontation and it is just so much easier to assume people are doing their best than to either fester or have to talk to them about their unpleasantness (I didn’t say it was altogether healthy).
But I also don’t have to live inside anyone else’s brain. I am always around me so I know the things I never have to know about anyone else. I know how immature and self-centered I can be, how cowardly and fearful. I know how easy it is for me to be consumed by my own imagination, how weak I am to my highest ideals, how faulty my faith is.
But Brené Brown also says we can rewrite those stories. She says there might be another way to look at the thing. Because just like writing a novel or an essay or a letter or a post on Instagram, there are stories that serve the thing and there are stories that don’t.
I am doing something here, with these words, yes, but with this life. I am pursuing something, I’m on a path. I have a vision in front of me of what my life is about and the stories I allow will either bring about the Good and True and Beautiful I am after, or they will undermine it. And just like in a novel or an essay, I get to choose my own adventure.
I was in a deeply unhealthy religious organization during my teen years. I trusted people I should not have trusted and alienated myself from people who cared about me. I got out because my parents didn’t enroll me in the school and my now-husband showed me how Christians could wear flip-flops on Sunday and still love Jesus. So I was swayed into it and swayed out of it. It hurt like hell.
I valued the deep longing in me to please God and cultivate family above everything else. I was too young to know better when adults who seemed to have special access to God’s will told me this was the path to get those things. I did well there, I was made an example. So I was scared to ruin it, but I asked questions anyway and I let what felt like home crumble around me in trust of the quiet voice inside me that told me this wasn’t it. It hurt like hell.
So just as I spend time at my computer re-reading words I’ve written (often words I was proud of the moment I set them to the screen), deleting and tweaking and messing with until I get my dopamine hit, I am spending time rewriting my life, too.
When Gabe is late home from work, the familiar story crops up about how he doesn’t care that I’m tired and overwhelmed by kid noises and trying desperately to make dinner because he doesn’t care about me. So I ask myself if this story is serving me – serving the Thing I Am Pursuing – and rewrite it.
There is always a better word, a cleaner fit, a more poetic way to say the thing that needs saying just as there is always a more true version to tell myself about what is happening here, what’s happened already. And I’m finding that the joy is in the rewrite.