The Stories We Tell

We are narrative people. We live in stories, think in stories, talk in stories. They're instinctive to our nature. They're a reaction, a way to make order of the chaos around us. A rearrangement of elements to make sense. What I'm trying to say is that stories are important. And we're always, always telling them. We tell them to each other. It's how we communicate. It's how we talk about our day or that weird thing that happened. We even put the things we feel into a story. "You said this, so I felt that."

We're always telling stories. Even when we're not speaking.

From there, we could probably transition into talking quite a while about how important it is to act like the character you want to be – whether it's the hero or villain, the victim or the victor – but that's not where we're headed. We're going internal.

To the stories we tell ourselves.

I have this friend who wants to be a writer. He wants to be a lot of things, but I know that among them is a desire to string words together in a way that draws people in to the stories he tells. He could tell those stories, were it not for the one he tells himself.

He's a good guy, funny and smart, but somewhere, at some point, he got it in his head that he couldn't write this or that, so his pen was stilled.

There is no greater tragedy than the story of "can't." The "I can't write" or "I can't dance" or "I can't find happiness where I am" story always comes true, always, because it's a story we write as we tell it. When we believe that something is impossible, it becomes impossible.

So we believe it all the more.

So to my friends, and to my enemies, and to anyone who falls in between, I want to share something to defeat your "can'ts." Something that I did that I believed I never would.

I've had a lot of "can'ts" in my life. Among the most lasting is the belief that I have no artistic talents outside of writing. Sure, every now and then I stumble into a good combination of words and phrases that raises the heart rate for a moment, but that's where my art ends.

That's what I told myself. That's the story I lived for over 26 years.

Last Wednesday, I felt this odd burning, this deep unsettlement that I couldn't shake. I don't know where it came from, I don't know why, but it ended with me taking a trip to Hobby Lobby and picking up supplies for drawing.

Again, I don't know why I thought I'd spend money on something I knew I couldn't do, but I needed some peace from that feeling and a pencil and some paper seemed to quiet it.

I ended up with other plans that evening, so I didn't get to use them that day, but the next morning, I tried my hand at some sketches. They weren't good, but they weren't as bad as I expected. That gave me a creative joy I haven't felt in some time.

That I did something that wasn't as bad as I thought they would be.

A day later, I drew this. Again, maybe not good, but for me, thinking I couldn't draw at all, it changed everything.


That's Batman. And looking at it, you can tell it's Batman. And I drew that. Following a tutorial, sure, but I did that.

I did something I couldn't do.

Now, let's get back to you. Let's get back to my friend. That story he tells himself about how he can't write.

Is that really one that needs to be told any longer? We've seen that story a thousand times in a million ways. We know how "can'ts" end. They end with "don'ts."

Let's see where "cans" and "wills" and "I might fail but at least I'm going to trys" can take us.

Let's tell ourselves, and each other, those stories and see if the world doesn't change.