Connecting Dots

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The urge to use stories to make sense of our lives and share them with others is hardwired into the human brain. Some of us write these stories, others tell them. Some of the stories are public, some are intensely private, told only to ourselves. Whatever their form or level of disclosure, we all have stories, and we begin telling them as language dawns.

In Child Development, Second Edition: A Practitioner's Guide, Douglas Davies states, “The stories of 2-year-olds...use narrative language to bring a personal sense of order and understanding to their experience.” He includes a transcripted story recorded by the parents of 28-month-old Emily. Her elaborate tale organized her understanding of a trip to the beach the following day.

My daughter was telling stories well before her second birthday. The first I remember was one she told me when she was 18 or 20 months old, as I was tucking her in: “Daddy go Dibby house. Play bridge.” She needed to explain why Daddy wasn't there for a night-night hug that night. That same daughter now shares her tiny girls'

Using stories to make sense of the world and cosmos goes back to the dawn of civilization. All cultures have some story of origin, and stories of gods, reasons and seasons. We are reminded of these stories every time we look at the stars and see Orion, or the Dippers. The Greeks and Romans concocted elaborate myths around clusters of stars that they designated as constellations.

Constellations are a perfect metaphor for stories, because they involve connecting dots to create structures of meaning and insight. Toddlers use dots of knowledge, connecting them to build a structure for understanding life and self and make it predictable. Early man connected dots of light to explain the gods and cosmic events, and to find their way around the earth.
Twelve constellations are still studied by students of the Zodiac to predict and explain world and personal events and make decisions.

Modern people have not changed so much as we might think from ancient times or early life. We still tell stories, to ourselves and each other. We tell them socially, on cell phones, by e-mail and by Tweeting. We tell them to friends. We tell them to strangers. Both stories and understanding grow and develop in the telling.

But told stories are soon forgotten. What better way to make enduring sense of our own lives than to get our fingers around a pen or on a keyboard and make some dots of memory visible, then connect those dots and develop a durable story? That's what memoir is all about ̶ compiling chaotic, random memories into a coherent, organized story that deepens our understanding and awareness of life, heals mind, body and soul, and gives us much to be grateful for ̶ and creates a legacy of story for future generations.

Write now: explore some of the stories you have written and look for dots of shared content that can be connected to create themes and structure.


Debbie said...

I follow Jon Katz's blog. He is a writer and photographer, best known for his dog books. He has been making entries on HIS blog about this very subject -- telling our stories.

Karen Walker said...

Sharon, I love this piece and the way you relate the children's game of connecting the dots with the writing of memoir. Yes! It is so like that, making connections between one seemingly unrelated event and another.