Our unique and common stories often live in our bodies, our homes, the places we work, the ways that we love, where the daily impacts of the systemic forces that shape our lives are most real and yet most individualized, isolated, unseen, and unnamed. Our narrative silences are what ultimately allow dominant social, political, economic, environmental, cultural, religious, relational and emotional stories to remain intact.
If as Thomas King says, “the truth about story is that’s all we are,” then we can consider the telling of our stories, stories that disrupt and dissolve what we take for granted, as a necessary and sacred act; because the truth about story’s power, is that’s what we become. As Freire writes, “it is in speaking their world that people, by naming the world, transform it,” and when we write our stories, we work to fill the abyss where narratives reliant on our individual and collective silences would otherwise operate. Writing our stories assists us to excavate the meaning of our experiences, helps us to see, know, and reclaim ourselves, to look beyond the perimeter of the spaces we have been limited to and/or limit ourselves to. (Freire, Herman) What Linda Hogan writes of ceremony can in this sense apply to the act of writing our stories:
…[it] is a part of a healing and restoration. It is the mending of a broken connection between us and the rest. The intention of a ceremony is to put a person back together by restructuring the human mind. This reorganization is accomplished by a kind of inner map, a geography of the human spirit and the rest of the world. We make whole our broken-off pieces of self and world. Within ourselves we bring together the fragments of our lives in a sacred act of renewal, and we reestablish our connection with others.
In speaking our world, we bring our stories into dialogue with the stories of others. We make communal our inheritances. (Freire) In telling our stories, to and with each other, we can find the critical spaces where our stories intersect and diverge; observe the impacts of the large world in our small lives; and strengthen our ability to build recognition across difference by witnessing evidence of our common humanity. In telling our stories, we can stitch together, as Freire suggests, a more objective understanding of the world in which we live; increasing our ability to enact meaningful change rooted in a deep engagement with our lived experiences.
As Fenton Johnson writes, memoir, as “a vehicle for subjectivity,” offers a poignant entry point “to truth, the enduring, timeless wisdom that enables us to have and keep faith in ourselves and in each other, in our collective capacity to live in harmony with each other and with our planet.” Memoir as an act of dialogue expects and requires others who are participant to, invoked in, and implicated directly by the stories we write; and who are on their own quest to remember and name.
Telling our stories holds the potential for political shift, spiritual recovery, and social healing, where we can start to create as opposed to react to narrow framings of the world; where expression of our truths and identities are able to emerge from a generative place. In writing our stories we leave the territory of hegemonic polarization and enter what Gloria Anzaldua terms Nepantla, “a liminal space, a space where you are not this or that […] but where you are in a kind of transition […] in the midst of transformation.”