Day 24 of 40 Days of Story: Ready to move on from conflict?

Me: Always…and not in this lifetime.

 

In this 40-days of Story I’ve been so ready to move on from conflict. I’m an optimist by birth and a conflict-avoidant by training. And…I’ve also become a big believer in the value of conflict.

 

As we’ve discussed there is no story without conflict. It’s true in story structure…and in our own lives.

 

But in the last couple of weeks I’ve had enough of conflict—enough to halt me writing for a time. I was sick. I was traveling. Yet that’s not really the story. What kept me from blogging was heartbreak.

 

I—like most—prefer to keep my conflict quiet. Hidden. Properly closeted.

 

At times this is wise. Strategic. Appropriate.

 

Why We Shouldn’t Hide Conflict

 

Yet there’s an intriguing thing about conflict—especially when it comes to our personal lives. For us to move through it, it must be born witness to by another.

 

I’m in no way advocating going all social media on your private affairs. But if you don’t invite others—at least another—to know the conflicts in your story then your successes will not carry the full weight of their meaning. The highs of your story will be lost on others if they never know your lows.

 

Yet, this is far from easy. One of the reasons is because many of our losses don’t have clear definitions or closure.

 

Several years ago one of my psychologist friends gifted me with the term: ambiguous loss. It was during a time when I was realizing I likely wouldn’t be able to have biological children. I was struggling to know how to grieve it. The naming of my ambiguous loss came as such a gift.

 

I heard the term used the other day in a NPR story about a forensic scientist searching for the bones of children lost in the fierce cyclone that hit Mozambique[1]. This scientist was embarking on this Herculean effort so the parents would have some form of closure…that their loss wouldn’t be so ambiguous.

 

While few of us will face such a tragedy, none of us escape loss. And many of our losses can feel like unmarked graves.  There’s the gut-wrench of a miscarriage, infertility or aging parents, the loss of a significant relationship before the markers of marriage and divorce, an estranged adult child, discarded dreams or job loss, the cruelty of mental illness and addictions, and then there’s aging with its own host of ambiguous losses.

 

It’s in these kinds of losses we need community all the more. We need to have others stand by our side, gaze at our unmarked graves and grieve with us…to bear witness to our ambiguous losses.

 

Yesterday, I had a couple of friends do that for me. They surrounded me as I said goodbye to the loss of a relationship. We marked it with the burning of poetry…and all the hopes of love the words contained. So hard…and so helpful.

Why We Must Always Have Conflict (in this life)

 

While losses can break our hearts, they also remind us our hearts are alive. When all conflict is done, our stories are over. And when we avoid conflict, we are actually shutting down what defines our story: desire.

 

The fact that we have conflict in our lives means that we’re risking and we’re invested. We don’t fight for what we don’t want.

 

So cheers to conflict…and a community that bears witness to it!

 

I’m curious how you mark your own ambiguous losses…thanks in advance for sharing.

[1] https://www.npr.org/2019/04/12/712606953/it-may-take-months-to-identify-cyclone-idai-victims-forensic-coordinator-says

Day 23 of 40 Days of Story: The Check-Up: Hard Reality + All Will Be Well

For the last week or so, I put my story on hold. I set it aside…well, the writing of it.

 

Yet as much as I try to halt my story, it unfolds whether I give it permission or not. It’s terrifying…and gorgeous. My story–and all our stories–as well as the Great Storyteller don’t give up as easily as we do.

 

So our stories move on…even if hard realities cause us not to want to pay attention.

 

My current hard reality: heartbreak.

 

It sucks. Ok, it SUCKS!!! There’s no way around it. Through it I must go.

 

And here’s the curious thing. There’s a grace of knowing my story continues. Whether I pay attention or not, it’s moving forward. So why not pay attention? And when I do–truly pay attention–the Great Storyteller tends to whisper another storyline to me. It’s a storyline you may know or need too.

 

Heartbreak—or whatever you may be experiencing that makes you want to put your story aside–has a stronger opponent.

 

Hope.

 

The storyline of Hope comes in a thousand forms: friends who war for your wellbeing, muscle memory of challenges survived, hikes in nature, songs that get you dancing, words spoken at the right time in the right way, children’s laughter, chocolate…and the Hope of All Hopes.

 

As we enter Holy Week, may you pay attention to your own hard reality…and may you know the Easter of your story–of our Story–is coming.

 

I leave you with this folk-song about Julian of Norwich….and the invitation to know in in the midst of the hard realities All will be well, all matter of things will be well. May it be so!

Day 22 of 40 Days of Story: What are some of the favorite backdrops to your story?

There’s an idea in screenwriting that goes like this: the most critical moments for the hero (i.e. the hard choices or key conversations) should happen in memorable settings. The backdrop should underscore the importance of the moment in the story.

 

While I love paying attention to this idea in films, I even more appreciate trying to create it in my own story.

 

I’ve pulled off the power of the backdrop in a dramatic way a few times in life. One of my favorite was when the TV network I was producing for got sold. I had just finished a multi-season series on sex-trafficking and was exhausted. And this change would likely require me to move way to get my next gig.

 

It was all so sudden and overwhelming. I knew I needed a new backdrop to acknowledge that my story was shifting in a significant way.

 

So I packed up my flat and headed out on an Unemployment Tour. My suspicion was that walking in the bush and gazing at the sea in South Africa with two dear friends might rouse me from my exhaustion and being back in familiar haunts in Europe may ground me enough to re-imagine a new home. Those backdrops worked their magic. When I returned to the States I was ready to engage a new season.

 

While that dramatic scene change was a gift, most I make are more subtle. Take today for instance. I was in NYC this week directing a shoot. I stayed on for a day so I could spend it walking in Central Park, which is always home base for me in NYC.

 

In this beloved backdrop I called a couple of treasured friends to include them in this memory…to set them in this scene.

 

Using backdrops can be even more basic. It’s simply a matter of exacting a little intention in our everyday lives.

 

For example, I know my best talks with my dad are on walks–we’re both more present that way. So we prioritize connecting in that way…whether we’re together or plan a call when we both can be walking.

 

Backdrops can also create energy and provide comfort. I have a dear friend who often schedules her first dates as a walk along her favorite greenway. She likes to see if a man is up for a little adventure and she knows even if the date doesn’t go well she’ll at least get in a good walk in a beautiful place.

 

Every city I live in I try to find a place of beauty near my home and go there regularly, especially when I need puzzle out challenges or work on creative projects.

 

I’m curious what backdrops you’re choosing for your story. Where do you go to help you make the hard choices or to have important conversations? And what are some favorite backdrops for your story?

 

Do tell. Thanks!

Day 21 of 40 Days of Story: Whose story is helping you imagine a better future?

Today I almost did something I was sure to regret. I almost sent a text that was based on assumptions and my own hurt, rather than filled with the benefit of the doubt. I was close to send.

 

Fortunately I had written it first in my notes. And right before I sent it I had an unexpected conversation with a new friend. She told me a story…a snatch from her own story.

 

And it rescued me. It gave me a vision of a different future, a better future.

 

Based on that better future, I re-wrote a better text.

 

Conservationist Peter Forbes writes,

“Stories help us imagine the future differently. Stories create community, enable us to see through the eyes of other people, and open us to the claims of others… Telling stories is our best hope of reflecting the kind of world we want to live in and, therefore, gives us hope of creating it.”

I’m so grateful for the conversation with my new friend and her story.

 

So, whose story is helping you imagine a better future?

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