I hear voices in my head. I expect I always will. They’re all versions of me — in stereo usually — in conversation with various departed ones, mentors, and intruders from my past. I am narrating my life to myself, more or less, all the time. I suspect we all are. Storytelling comes too naturally to humans to be suppressed.
If I’m attentive, I can detect plotlines running under my day like background music. These tell me what the world is up to, what I hunt and what I must dodge and occasionally some reasons why.
I can slip into this crowd of voices quite effortlessly, in part, because I’m a writer and am encouraged to do this professionally.
I have sharpened my ear for stories outside me too. A major part of what I do as a psychotherapist is to listen for the atmosphere clinging to a client’s story, the quest and its obstacles, the supporting characters, the angels, the devils, the ghosts of Christmas past. I also search out the contours of the little lump of story that hides beneath conscious awareness like a cat under a bedspread.
I offer back summaries of their stories as I’ve heard them and invite my clients to edit, elaborate, revise and expand them to suit themselves better.
I recognize the persuasive power my own tales have in shaping my experience. Whenever I succeed in exchanging sticky bits of my own plot for ones more congenial, encouraging and realistic or when I remember to add my body’s murmurings to the dialogue, I feel quietly triumphant.
Because we’re each swimming in an ocean of stories, it’s an acquired knack to separate our own from the rest; to find where our skins end and water begins as we search out the truth of ourselves. The ocean too is just another story and all the swimmers in it only following a plotline to the shore.
Join Sarah Sheard in the Tracking Changes workshop starting May 3.