Christina Baldwin’s focus is on story, telling the story of our lives. Much of her presentation focused on the themes of her book, StoryCatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story.
Baldwin’s main contention is that asking, telling, reflecting and understanding one’s story has profound power. She brings the story metaphor to everyone’s life: “We enter life as a blank page and leave as a full book.”
Stories and journals organize and make meaning of the raw experience of life. By writing and telling our individual stories in journals, we can keep a storyline through all kinds of chaos that we may be experiencing. Journaling helps writers write their ways out of the most painful experiences. Journal writing, as Baldwin observes, is alchemical: “Writing turns lead into gold.”
Baldwin continues with another metaphor that describes the power of narratives: Stories are maps, and authors are mapmakers. Our own stories help us find our ways during the times when we feel like we’ve reached dead ends or lost our paths. Authors help teach us by their experiences, marking the roadways they found valuable and worthy of recounting.
Baldwin then moves to a wider lens: viewing the history of journaling. She makes a wonderful leap to the biological world, suggesting that DNA is the genetic “journal” of our species.
Baldwin references an anthropologist who claims that 90% of everything we know about being human has been passed along via story. Baldwin writes in her bookStoryCatcher*:
“The gate to any new period of growth or maturity in our lives requires a period of discomfort and disorientation. Out of this experience we eventually create a more deeply integrated story.
Whenever we find ourselves in a period of disorientation we can gain perspective by viewing our crisis as though it is a key turning point in the plot of a novel – after all, our life is a story, and stories follow certain structures. … Plot is set in motion by some detonating event that discombobulates us, shakes up the status quo, and sets us off on the journey. When this happens in real life we may try to reestablish our former life, but eventually we realize that is impossible. Plot carries us forward into new territory; there is no going back. The only resolution is to reorient our lives so that we can integrate this experience into who we are.”
Baldwin took the conference attendees on a condensed journey through the history of journal writing, beginning by tracing our roots from eastern Africa where Homo sapiens begin to evolve. She discussed how these early people traveled to different continents and drew paintings in caves and made carvings in rock that have survived the millennium, evidence of some of the first journals. These primitive people are telling their stories. She then jumps to the year 1450 when Gutenberg invents the printing press and sparks the “explosion of story.” There’s a renaissance in personal writing in the Victorian era when people start writing about their lives. In the 20th century she notes that the 1950s were a time of cultural silence, followed by the 1960s when individual voices begin to emerge from the collective. Anne Frank’s diary became read widely; Anais Nin’s diary is published in 1966. Anais Nin’s statement, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are,” is a landmark in the understanding of how journal writing is a reflection not necessarily of the world, but of who we are in the world.
Individually, our stories help us understand, grow, and learn from our experiences. Baldwin states that “Story told to inform – inspire – activate – becomes an act of citizenship. … The proper use of story creates community; communities creates story.”
Baldwin contends that “restorying the world will restore the world.” By writing about your story, you learn where the next place to step in your life. By asking others about their stories, you connect and invite them to share their knowledge and their wisdom. Christina reminds us that there are both short and long stories. She uses the beautiful Parisian cathedral, Notre Dame, as an example of the long story. The cathedral took 300 years to build. Those who started constructing it never saw the completion of the building. And those who completed the building never knew those who built the foundation. And so the building stands today as a monument to the collective effort.
Baldwin invites us each to transform our individual body of knowledge and write it as a story, or sets of stories. She asserts that the collective is starving to learn what we know. Similarly, she encourages each of us to help others tell their stories, by connecting, questioning, listening, and affirming their stories. Together, Baldwin hopes to collectively bring these stories to the world, saving them to help restore our planet.
*Excerpted from the book StoryCatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives Through the Power and Practice of Story © 2007 by Christina Baldwin. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com