Oh no no no
You just gotta let that old story go
You just gotta let that good river flow into your heart
It's a start
Trevor Hall, “The Old Story”
We are all writers. Drafting, revising, creating our story as we go— we are dreamers and planners. Yet, I’m finding that we are all suckers for the happily ever after. We do not write heartbreak or tragedies. They are not something that we create on purpose; they happen to us.
I had written the story. A lifetime of it.
First come loves, then comes marriage, then career and grad school, next up the baby carriage through the streets of New York City. The boxes were checked and the foundation was set.
But when we are writing our stories, we fail to account for the twists and turns. We tend to bask in the light of our narrative and disregard the fifty percent spent in the dark (literally and figuratively). While we pen a marriage, kids, happy home, successful career, exciting vacations and bucket lists, we fail to account for illness, disease, loss, betrayal, addiction, infidelity, financial ruin, pandemics, etc. When life happens and the darkness does come, suddenly our story is dated, irrelevant, or simply impossible.
John Irving writes, “Half my life is an act of revision.” I have come to see that therein lies the real creative action. So you had a perfect fairy tale, but what you do when the evil villain snatches that away from you is where our lives can be won or lost. How do we revise to save ourselves after heartbreak, loss or betrayal? Rerouting… where do you head from here?
As a writing teacher, I often tell my students the real work begins in revision. You get to see the big picture and decide if your writing works as a whole. Is it effective and does it accomplish what you need it to do? Much of the same process can be applied to the stories of our lives. Sure, we might write beautiful love stories, but then life’s hopper throws us curve balls.
We get to pick up the pen again— create something new and beautiful. Will it be a remodel or a total demolition? I have experienced both in my life. Tearing it all down to the bare bones of our lives and beginning a new chapter from scratch is daunting work. But building something new is not nearly as hard as releasing the old.
Just as my students hate deleting and cutting pieces of writing they worked hard to create, so we cling to the narratives of our lives.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
This was not part of the plan.
How could this happen to me?
I followed all the rules.
The Universe can be a tough editor. We don’t always welcome a push in another direction, so we cause ourselves pain by clinging to our story. We have to let go of the old to make room for the new. Time will continue to pass, our one precious life will plunge forward, but clinging to that story becomes the albatross about our neck. It buries us and prevents us from staying open to the possibility of a new, surprising story waiting to unfold.
We don’t just get one shot to write or right our lives.
We can choose to be active participants in the creation of an ever-changing story.
We can become radical revisionists.