on telling and retelling our own personal stories

the other day i read a quote about telling and retelling our own stories by audre lorde, angela davis, or bell hooks (does that make me sound like an asshole?). it really got me going. the essence of the quote was that it’s important to recognize the power of telling and retelling your story. we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. and furthermore, the power of narrative gives us the ability to shape how those two things combine and inform those around us about who we are. i mostly think about this on an individual level but it has implications for collectives as well.

in a class i co-taught with my friend, nse umoh, we lead an activity where people paired up and told each other their life story. one thing i always remember from this activity is how the 2nd storyteller chooses relevant details based on the 1st story. some would see this as disengenuine, but i think it lines up with the quote quite well.

another thought on this subject is how our stories change based on our time perspective of it. the older i get and the more i learn about the world and myself, how i describe my history evolves. how i divide my life into time spans changes as well as how i talk about what was important. two great quotes to mind in this regard:

  1. something about how we can only see history by looking backwards.
  2. the road you’ve traveled only seems clear and well-defined in hindsight.

the power to claim and reclaim our story can never be taken away from us and i think this is one of our greatest strengths. i am just beginning to understand this power for myself and i’m starting to see how it applies to others as well.