What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world?
I’ve been thinking about this prompt for the majority of January, and here’s a secret: it still makes me nervous. Thirty-one days to reflect and ponder and think about things that are all in some way related to this question, and still, the answering of it makes me pause. Core story? What is my core story? Isn’t that kind of like asking “what’s the purpose of the universe”, or some such thing?
Now, before I get accused of drawing ridiculous parallels (I do not in any way mean to equate my story with the universe, never fear), let me explain. I find myself somewhat skeptical at the idea that an entire person, and therefore an entire life, can be contained in one “core story”. Is it not true that we as human beings are made up of a variety of core stories? Is it not also true that these core stories change, and shift, and grow with us as we grow old and learn and make mistakes? Core, by definition, refers to the basic or innermost part of something. We talk of the earth’s core, or the core of a problem. Apple cores. When you strip something down, get rid of what’s superfluous and transient and ephemeral, you get to the core, or so the saying goes.
So, then. Is it not then somewhat of a contradiction to call something a core when it’s bound to change all of the time? Or is it possible to say that the only constant thing about one’s core is the fact that it will never be the same, à la change is the only constant, and other such philosophies?
I am not sure. Of course, at first glance it’s not that hard to pinpoint what might be my core story. At first glance, it’s not difficult to see that story is probably more apt than core, as I’ve always been about stories. Right back to those days when I was a small Amanda, right back to that atrocious (and yet cute) first poem. I have always seen the world through the eyes of the storyteller, thinking and feeling and hurting and always mindful, on some level, as to how I could transform all of that experience into something that would look good on the page.
But that storytelling vision, though central in a way, hasn’t always been what’s most important. I am, for example, ridiculously intense in matters of love. When a new crush rears its head, I am so suddenly and completely consumed that writing no longer has pride of place at the table. When Amanda’s in love, nearly every waking thought she has is about that mystical, mythical other person. When Amanda’s in love, she ceases to be the storyteller, and becomes instead a mooning, moaning, woe-is-me little fool.
When I was completing my undergraduate degree at UVic, my “core story” was about having good friends, and good relationships, and trying to balance work and social life and school and the terrible fear that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer after all. That “core story” feels like a lifetime in its own right, just as my time in Scotland felt like a lifetime of its own, too. In Scotland, my core story eventually revealed itself to be all about pride, and trying too hard, and not finding balance.
The point, here, is that at each of these different stages of my life, the core – the stripped-down bit of me, the essence of who I was and am and what I was/am trying to do – was different. Maybe not wholly different, but the person that I am now is very different from the person who flew to England at nineteen, the girl who spent the first part of her twenties in BC, the girl who fought for the Scotland dream, the girl who eventually came back from that dream battered and weary. My core story changes all the time. The things I want are different. Yes, like I said, the writing stays the same. But the things I want to write about are different every day. Right now I’m finishing a novel; the next book I want to write is nonfiction, on a preposterously epic, world-traveling kind of scale. Tomorrow I might wake up and say that all I want to do for the rest of my life is write short fiction. I don’t know. I am shifty, shifty, shifty, like the wind.
Of course, anyone over the age of 30 would probably read this and say, well, duh. Of course everything about you changes. People change. People want different things all the time. Artists want to see and capture and do different things all the time. Why? Because the world changes too, Amanda. You can’t step into the same river twice – well, you can’t wake up into the next morning and think that anything about your day is going to be remotely the same. That’s just … life. Why are you getting so existential and wound up and – sure, why not say it – weird, and crazy, about something which is really just a plain ol’ truth of the world?
A year or so ago, a good friend of mine imparted the following wisdom: Amanda, your thirties will rock. Guaranteed. You’ll probably take yourself less seriously, and you’ll know more about who you are and what you want in life. But most importantly – you’ll recognize that time can speed up and slow down for you all at once, that it’s okay to stop and rest and just … enjoy. The twenties are all about finding out who you are. And when you get there, finally, you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find.
I am twenty-eight now, soon to be twenty-nine. In just over a year, I’ll be thirty. The core story of my twenties has, in a way, been exactly this: trying to figure out who I am, what I want, and then tweaking those things and learning as I go along that maybe who I am isn’t who I thought I was. Maybe what I want isn’t actually what I thought I wanted. When I was twenty, I had myself pegged as a good Catholic girl a year away from marriage and eternal wedded bliss. Eventual mother to five children, happy soccer mom in a rambling old farmhouse somewhere on Vancouver Island. And then ten years happened, and somewhere along the way everything about that idea, that core story, completely disappeared. Now? Now all I want is to write, and have an apartment somewhere of my own, and I no longer know if I’ll have the energy for both writing and motherhood. Now I'm a much more solitary creature, one who nonetheless, as that same friend once pointed out, has the hungriest heart of anyone you've ever met.
And I know that this is just the usual process of youth – we do all go through that process of finding out who we are, after all. But now I feel younger than I did when I was twenty. Now I’m nervous about saying anything definite in regards to my future. Having any absolutes. If you can reach the end of your twenties and realize that nothing is as you thought it was, and even those things that you take for granted (the writing, say) can change, or make you into a version of yourself that you didn’t know existed, then how can you step back from that and say that there’s a core story to you at all? If the person at twenty is different from the person at twenty-nine (and let’s pause, for a moment, and give heartfelt, joyous thanks for the fact), then it stands to reason that all of those people I’ve met over the past decade, all of these folks who’ve seen Amanda during the various core stories of her twenties, have met a different person. In a way.
(Ramble, ramble, ramble. Now it occurs to me that the twenty-year-old Amanda had a habit of overthinking things. That certainly hasn’t changed. She also had a nasty habit of thinking, on some level, that the rest of the world was interested in hearing what she had to say. Ha! Eureka! There’s your core story, Amanda – a series of neuroses, and the persistent belief that other people care enough to hear about them.)
Well, blogosphere friends – Reverb10 friends, Twitter friends, real life friends, and all – in the end the prompt still has me flummoxed. What is my core story? How do I share it with the world? Can a core story change with the seasons? Can it be muddled and unclear and shifty as a person themselves is shifty as the wind?
Can one, possibly, say something as simple as I’m just trying to figure it all out, and enjoying the mystery as I go along? Can that be a core story? I’d like to think so.
This month has been rife with reflection, and work, and thought. In material terms, I am no farther ahead than I was when I flew back to Ontario in November. My debt, if anything, has gotten worse. I still have no idea what’s going to happen. But the book is done now, and it will go off to my agent at the end of the week if not before, and maybe fruit will come. Maybe other things will come. Because if I haven’t moved ahead materially, I feel like I’ve jumped light-years ahead in terms of my soul, and that has to mean something. See – sometimes overthinking can be useful! I am hoping that this newfound sense of peace will stay with me, as I slide into February and face what comes next. Trying to figure it all out, and enjoying the mystery, and hoping that more chances come my way to write and do what I love.
Please, Oh Great Universe – send me chances. You’ll find me at the little farmhouse in southwestern Ontario, standing in the field and waving my neuroses at the sky.