They say there’s two sides to every story.
I say–there’s a hell of a lot more than that!
Most people, however, never get past the first telling. Most of us create a narrative of our experiences in which we are the protagonist, the good guy, the hero, and we tend to stick to that.
This doesn’t make you an asshole. The thrust to center ourselves as protagonist to our own lives remains fundamental to the human experience. Perhaps the most human thing about us remains our propensity to tell stories–always, from our earliest years, creating narratives through which to understand our lives.
For example: I am a girl from the mean streets of Dixieland, saddled with a traumatic youth, a life of sex work, and a journey chasing degree after degree, always judged no matter the arena, my resilience and my unflappable determination the result of my struggle against a world beset upon seeing me lose.
You see that? That’s one way I’ve come to understand my life. That’s a story. It’s one of many ways of seeing my life.
In this narrative, I am a Good Guy battling demons; my (rather-unexamined) position is that of hero.
There are, of course, other versions.
Versions in which I emerge more complex. Messier.
Think upon your life. You too have a story.
The point is, we are all already storytellers; we understand our lives fundamentally through the stories we tell ourselves and others about who we are; most of us never venture into the treacherous land outside our own protagonistic subjectivity to take a view of our lives from another perspective–a perspective less wedded to defensive ego.
I’m writing a memoir. You probably know that. You may also know that some of my raw material springs from a podcast I produced in 2016-17 called Stripcast: True Stories from a Stripper with a PhD. This podcast was (and continues to be) quite popular, with over half a million downloads and growing.
Let me tell you a lesson I’ve learned in the process of reworking this podcast material into memoir:
The first time I told my story–in this case, the publication of Stripcast–all I could see was the ways I was right. The ways I’d been wronged. The ways I was a victim. The ways I was a hero.
As I set about reworking this material, revisiting these life stories that I’d told in my brain a thousand times before spilling them onto the interwebs–
Well, the second time I looked at these stories–all I could see was the ways I’d been wrong. The shit I’d left out. The fucked-up things I’d said. Fuckin-A. Maybe I’ve been the bad guy some of the time. Maybe–most of the time.
That was phase two of looking at my story.
Then I took a break. Several weeks off. Returned to the material.
At this point, I’d already walked down my well-worn path of heroism. I’d then turned on myself in revision one, my faults appearing in high relief. Yet in revision two, my third time around with these stories, something interesting happened–
I began to view my story, and each of the actors involved–myself included–with less judgment, and more compassion. I began to realize what I’ve always known, what life has shown me again and again–
There are no Good Guys, homie. There are no Bad Guys. Life ain’t neat like that.
Stripcast was my first real foray into telling my story. Being my first telling, of course I was still wedded to a relatively unexamined understanding of my life–and the most protective understanding of my life, at that. An understanding I had built in many ways as a defense against pain and regret.
Yet as I looked at these stories again, from different perspectives, with a different state of heart, no longer seeking to blame but instead seeking to understand, something beautiful happened–
I no longer emerged as a spotless hero–
and that is magnificent.
Instead, through repeated re-visioning of my stories, I have opened a path for telling the most honest, vulnerable, bald truth I can access–even if I look like an asshole is some of these tellings.
I’m okay with that. I’m better than okay with that.
And here’s why: nobody likes a spotless hero.
And here’s a secret: everybody has been the asshole.
Another secret: everyone thinks they’re the only asshole.
When I relinquish my slavery to my ego, when I step back from viewing myself as the official Good Guy, that’s where the magic happens–
That’s where I become human.
The goal is not to dazzle folks with your amazingly one-of-a-kind story, your unique brilliance, your wildest ride.
The goal instead is to reveal with honesty and vulnerability the parts of yourself that most folks hide.
The struggle. The imperfection. Failure.
Friend, we’re all out here thinking we are uniquely fucked-up. We’re all out here feeling alone. We crave a mirror, someone brave enough to tell a story in which we can see ourselves.
Telling your story: it’s less about being seen, and more about making other folks feel seen.
You want to make other folks feel seen?
Dare to see your own story from the third side.