Tell Better Stories, Live a Better Life
Here is the script of my TEDxABQ Women 2015 talk, a manifesto of sorts for creative souls. Since the May 28, 2015, talk, I have heard from more than a few people that it was life-changing. That is my aim.
If these words mean something to you, and you act upon them — that is, if you live them — that is momentous for me. If you should find that one true sentence that speaks for who you are and where you must go, then please share it with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be the Superhero of Your Own Story: The Power of Narrative to Create Your Path
Carolyn Flynn is known as every woman’s friend as longtime editor of Sage magazine. As a literary writer and author of transformational books, she also knows the power of narrative to craft your life path. Taking a cue from Joseph Campbell, women can see themselves as the victorious heroes of their own lives drawing on allies, mentors and tormentors-as-mentors to answer their personal calling. In this talk, you’ll learn how telling better stories creates better lives.
I work in a field with a 95 percent rejection rate.
That’s to say, I’m a writer.
I could build an entire Millennium Falcon with my rejection slips.
Here’s another way to tell the story:
I’m a writer. That means I get published a lot, and people read my words.
Telling the victorious story is the secret for uncommon success.
Once I told the story of a daughter of a man who sat her down with typewriter and a collection of Hemingway short stories and told her she could write one true sentence.
HOW you choose to tell your story creates your path. In other words …
Change your story, change your life.
My true path is as a writer.
That is my personal calling, and you have one, too.
Have you heard the call?
Yes, I know you have.
To be a creative soul in a culture that does not place high value on women or art is nothing short of superhero.
Dani Shapiro, in “Still Writing,” tells about a sculptor friend whose pieces are in the most prominent collections in the country.
“Somebody just asked me if was still doing my sculpture thing.”
He wondered aloud if he should respond with, “So, are you still doing that brain surgery thing?”
The hero’s journey
To write, to be an artist, to be one who tunes into an inner landscape, is to receive the call.
The call to leave the ordinary world, like the hero in mythic journey.
Women must take a cue from Joseph Campbell and see themselves as the victorious heroes of their own lives.
When we describe the hero’s journey, we tell it from Luke Skywalker’s viewpoint.
So I decided to look at what would happen if I told the hero’s journey from Leia’s point of view.
Was her story…
My mother died giving birth to me. I am a motherless child.
My twin brother was taken away from me. I’m alone in this world.
My father turned evil. There is no saving him.
I served in the Imperial Senate, and I have led a revolution.
As my mother lay dying, I came into this world with my brother. I heard in her cries of childbirth that she loved my father. I know this, even when I feel the pull to his dark side.
Yes, I’ve been angry at my father, like that time that he froze my husband.
I resisted the very idea that I had to go rescue my husband from Jabba the Hutt, which, if you’ll remember the chain getup …
I see now the purpose.
From these events, our family was healed.
I grew stronger.
And, you know, I made a good marriage with Han Solo, who, you have to admit, was pretty hot.
Allies, Mentors and Tormentors
What I want for you is to place yourself on the path of the hero.
I want you to find that one true sentence that speaks for who you are and where you must go. How can you get there?
Your greatest ally is your knowledge that this is your calling.
That is your sacred yes. Say no to everything else.
That right there, that’s your best friend.
Take the dependency leap.
Recognize that you are not self-sufficient. Choose the joyful struggle of inter-dependence.
As I did, when I found myself on HALLOWEEN standing in the post office mournfully trying to summon my manuscript from the bin, where it sat. Alone and directionless. Solitary, invisible and anonymous.
Without a postage sticker.
I mean, who does that?
A woman in a superwoman cape came to my aid, pretty much shut down the place – because I had been kind to her.
Refusing the call
But we know this part, don’t we? Women know allies, mentors, we know friendship, collaboration.
So there must be something else, then, that holds us back, makes us refuse the call.
This hero thing, it’s not easy or natural.
We still have thousands of years of patriarchy rattling in our heads, telling us that we are to be the object of someone else’s life, and not the subject of our own.
That habit of not listening to the call – it’s a habit well-practiced.
We opt out. We refuse the call.
We opt out and don’t even know we’re opting out.
We succumb to the distraction of ordinary success – the call that comes in disguise.
The courageous path bears the risk of bringing on the battle.
I ask you, if you went, if you just took the path, WHO would disapprove? Who would stand in your path?
How huge this risk is for us.
I’ve come to believe it is simply primal for women to avoid criticism at all costs.
For centuries, women depended on pleasing the men in their lives to survive – otherwise, the options were: slave, or prostitute.
Too often, we reject ourselves when what WE SAY brings on a challenge.
Or, when we have the courage to speak about what we truly want.
We THINK the adversity is a “NO,” when it’s a BIG YES, GET READY.
The dark nights of the soul are what make you worthy of your own yes. The allies and mentors who show up for you, they are a yes, too.
I’m here to tell you today that it is IN the ordeals that you taste the elixir – the sweet wisdom the hero brings back from her journey.
Which brings me to tormentors.
Tormentors as mentors
Your tormentors are your mentors, too.
They are your critics and your circumstances.
The bullies, the scolders, the nitpickers.
The poverty, the dead or evil parents, the rejection slips, the glass ceiling, the hard-to-persuade spouse.
They are not your dragons.
They are your greatest sages.
I think about that woman with the Superwoman cape.
I have been asking how is it, then, that we learn to fly.
To learn to fly is to achieve a certain velocity. A certain velocity.
Give me faith, then, and give me speed.
Test my character. Strengthen my resolve.
I ask my fear, how can I defeat you?
Or better yet, how can I write about you?
Not to slay you, but to understand you.
The page is my threshold. I cross in again and again, leaving the ordinary world where fear is real and criticism means anything.
I enter the extraordinary world.
I have always traveled back and forth, for about 20 years, as I wrote that story about my own father and his broken dreams.
For seven years, it stayed in a drawer. I couldn’t face it.
But here it is.
‘Pretend,’ winner of the 2014 Rick Bass/Montana Prize for Fiction
I’ve always traveled back to the threshold where I know my story begins.
That is the story I choose to tell.
Tell better stories, live a better life.
I’m a writer, and that’s the truest sentence I know.