Monday, May 16, 2011

Finding My Story: An Explanation

It’s always interesting when two obsessions find a point of intersection. My long-running fascination with the idea that story and narrative have neurological basis, and are biologically inherent in human beings, and my recent research into the emerging sciences of the mind as applied to personal development and therapy hit an interesting nexus last week.

I suffer from a mosaic of mental illnesses ranging from fetal alcohol syndrome to OCD, and bipolar, but the big boy most of the year is post-traumatic stress syndrome. (During late winter and early spring, depression takes the lead, but that’s another subject.) No doubt further inspection would reveal more details – but the thing is, is that under the right circumstances, I function at a high level. It represents a quandary.

Since I’m close to the bottom of the income level, I’m not in a position to pay for the intensive therapy and/or medication that my situation seems to require. So I’m investigating my alternatives.

This is one of the alternatives.

It seems that a healthy individual has what is referred to as a coherent personal narrative. They have a clear sense of who they are and where they came from. My sense of self is fragmented and easily subject to disruption. In people with PTSD, this lack of narrative, of self-story, is symptomatic.

This next statement has not been demonstrated, and may be proven false. But my informed intuition tells me that story has a specific type of neurological effect. When someone is engaged with a story, specific areas of their brain are also engaged.

And given the hierarchy of the nervous system, it seems reasonable to propose that there is a feedback system engaged, where the language centers interpreting the words send their meanings to the parts of the brain involved in sensory perception, in recalled memory, in emotion – that when one engages in a story, one’s brain and mind become active and integrated, and this neurological activity is the real reward of narrative.

To have a story of your own, a sense of who you are and where you came from, a sense of place and purpose. These are complex neurological events, and they can be impaired. And repaired.

People who know me, know I have stories. But what’s the big story? I do not know, and life has put me in a position where the future is both thoroughly unpredictable and oddly optimistic.

I’ve approached writing about my life over and over again, rarely with success. The stuff I’ve done that’s cut closest to the truth has gotten me a consistent response from readers – this is your best stuff, but you need to do a lot of work on it.

So it goes in the trunk…

I’ve also resisted writing directly about my life because I don’t want to come off as engaging in race-baiting, family-directed guilt-mongering, insufferable complaining, claiming status as a victim or martyr, etc, etc, etc.

This is different. I am not in a position to pay a therapist to extract and interpret my narrative for me. But I can try and create the narrative myself. So that’s what I’m going to do. I am going to try and put down the Story of Sean. (See, even using the name ‘Sean’ seems weird to me. I don’t Sean-identify.) If I perceive my story as representing a danger to my reputation or the public well-being, hey. It’s me or you at this point.

Here are the rules. First off, these posts will not feature art. That would represent an additional level of effort that might keep me from continuing if I hit a rough patch. And this will also serve as a warning to those who prefer to avoid vicarious trauma.

Since this is supposed to be a story, I’m delivering it in rough chronological order. There will be a bit of leaping about if I run across a juicy running theme. If it makes since to say, “This happened in kindergarten, and then something like it in fourth grade and when I was twenty,” then I’ll do that – but for the most part, I intend a steady forward plod.

Next, this is a coherent personal narrative, not a literal documentation of the truth. I will stick as closely as possible to the truth, but I will also include tall tales, lies, and misconceptions, clearly labeled as such. These things also play a role in a personal mythology, and that is what I am creating here. One of the reasons I’ve been resistant to this notion in the past has been my sense of dedication to verifiable truth. Unfortunately, the most important stories of all, the stories of our lives, are composed of the flimsiest of materials – memories and other lies.

But this is what you work with. Recognizing it as a mythology helps me live with this.

In addition, there will be whatever asides as seem necessary to provide context.

My approach to these will be as casual as possible, but I am a writer, and I will be keeping an eye on the possibility that these posts may turn out to be the first draft of a finished work. That said, the novel comes first, and I can’t devote the energy to this that a serious project demands. But a casual approach may generate good results – not too much filter.

I’m putting this out on my blog for a number of reasons. One, is that I’m going into a profession that makes me a semi-public personality. Well, this internet crap is like training wheels for celebrity. As someone with terrible boundaries, it’s not a bad idea to mark them clearly. The other is that this is a format where I’ve established a currently-interrupted habit of productivity.

We’ll see how far I get. It’s an intimidating project, making sense of a life.

Especially a life like this.


EFKelley said...

This sounds like an excellent idea. I'm looking forward to it!

Sean Craven said...

It gets weird fast, and doesn't really stop.

ada said...

I think this is a great idea and thank you for letting us observe.

cathschaffstump said...

Although my method of doing this was not as systematized as yours, Sean, this was very helpful to me.

The first thing I did was invent the person I wanted to be. Then I faked it until I made it. And then I did this--figured out the whys and wherefores of where I came from.

Your way of doing it makes much more sense.

Sean Craven said...

Ada, I'm glad to have you along for the ride.

Catherine, I'd have tried your method if I'd have ever been able to figure out a role-model I could follow. This is just a matter of looking at the problem and seeing where I could get maximum result from minimum (but still necessarily serious) effort.

That's my story. Rationality versus crazyness in a no-holds-barred closed-cage grudge match.

Tell you all the truth, my main worry is that this will all read more like an origin story than a memoir. Like it or not, the last thing anyone would call my life would be 'convincing.'