A Mute in a Monologue

InariInari was born in southern Finland. 22 years later she was born of water and of the spirit in the United Kingdom, where she met the missionaries while studying art in Coventry University. After completing her Masters in Media Art she served a mission in Sweden, which left her with a family of hundreds of missionary brothers and sisters all over the world. Currently Inari is working to pay off her student loan before embarking on further adventures. The attached image titled “Amelié” is a self-portrait after Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party”, one of fifteen in a series (currently underway), combining the search of identity with art history.

“The universe is not made of atoms; it’s made of stories.”

-Muriel Rukeyser

I have often heard expressed the idea that we all are constantly telling ourselves a story of our lives in order to make sense of our experiences; an inner narration to structure everything into a coherent whole. This thought was brought to the fore in my life recently when I finally realised the real reason why I hadn’t been going to church for the past several months.

The backdrop to my inner story is that the world is open and friendly, and that things usually work out if you’re willing to put in some effort and not expect or think you deserve something. A mix of Lutheran humility and Mormon positivity, if you will. In my story I am the kind of character that does things. I make plans and then follow them (leaving room for happenstance, of course). I have friends in different countries, I travel, I work, and I’m a creative and overall positive, can-do, happy person.

On one such travel I met a young man (a convert like me) and we both knew there and then that this was it, and we were engaged after knowing one another for two days. What a story, right? Five months later we were bummed out by the hassle of making plans to accommodate other people (including those in bureaucracy) and decided to elope to Reno.

When things went wrong, it didn’t really fit into my story. I couldn’t make sense of it. I came back home from the States not knowing what to think. I felt like I lost control of the story. The weeks and months that followed were very unstable times. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It was like my mental author had slammed into a writer’s block and couldn’t make anything coherent come out of her pen.

That’s when I stopped going to church.

Only recently I realised that the reason for not going wasn’t that I was too tired or too depressed (as I told via email to some of the branch members), but because I didn’t know what to tell people. My voice developed a habit of cracking whenever I had to say anything about my current situation, and that made me hate the thought of going to my very small branch (where everyone knows everything about everybody else) where people, expecting me and my American fiance, would ask the inevitable question: “What happened?”

What had happened indeed? I didn’t have an official explanation. My inner propaganda office seemed to have gone on holiday. I couldn’t deal with the situation. I had no tools to start unpacking the tangle of emotions in my head. I wasn’t sure what character I was anymore. I was lost.

Time has passed and I have words for the situation now; I have a story to make sense of it by (though my voice still cracks every time the matter comes up). But now, having experienced a failure in this inner narration, I’m beginning to question this story-telling practice. Telling a story necessitates editing. History is written by winners, so we never get the whole picture. That applies to life too: you will only ever know your own story. What if you get the wrong end of the stick?

Then add to all that the fact that this story telling probably isn’t completely conscious either. Most likely there are several factors, such as environment, society, upbringing, genetic factors, the chemical balance of the brain etc… at work too. In Segullah there have been some conversations already about negativity and our inner voice being affected by the example of family and friends. I think we are aware that we’re not completely in control of ourselves.

But faith also plays a part in this. As people of faith we are more prone to seeing an overall meaningful story in our lives; we make sense of the chaos through our faith. A tragedy becomes a trial of faith, good news are a blessing from Heavenly Father, there is a bigger picture that you will be able to see in hindsight, and that it’s all part of the plan. I do believe these things, and I have found thoughts like these to be helpful in difficult times, when my inner author has gone astray.

And I don’t think I could stop telling the story even if I tried.

How has your inner author impacted your life? Have you ever been in a situation where yours and someone else’s inner stories differed widely even though you were both there? How can we help others (or ourselves) deal better with the inner narration?

7 thoughts on “A Mute in a Monologue

  1. The thing that I didn’t realize until later in life was that although everyone’s story has its beautiful and happy parts, it just as surely has its frightening, sad and unbearable parts. No one has the perfect life even though we sometimes would like to appear to have that. We must make it through what we are dealt(and each of us are dealt a unique set of problems)with integrity, grace and eventual peace. Learning to do that is a process and hopefully, these are the skills we are learning through the love of the Gospel. Keep your chin up and best wishes.

  2. A dear friend and I were discussing this kind of honesty in self-storytelling recently. It’s a common misperception that when trial or tragedy strikes, you don’t have enough faith if it effects you, cripples you, even. People choose to hide the sorrow, putting on the easy mask of being “fine,” while they look at the masks everyone else wears, where their perfect, well groomed families who are never late, sit quietly in the pew beside them…and their sorrow deepens. But even when we realize that everyone has, at some time, pretended “fine-ness,” it still takes a massive courageous leap to admit we’re out fine, even to ourselves, and especially to brothers and sisters who might also be suffering, but who also do a great job of looking OK for a couple of hours in a public setting. It’s…terrifying to peel off that facade and feel exposed, especially in the community where it should be easiest, where we are not ever a burden to one another, where ideally there would be no gossip, no judgment. But, that understanding that growth isn’t a lack of faith, that sorrow in loss isn’t a lack of faith, is hard, is frightening. It’s also where we can forge the deepest friendships….if we can grab that chance to be unmasked. Especially to ourselves. I’ve spent wasted years thinking I was fine….when I was hiding the most effectively from myself. But, hey…one of the reasons we love segullah is that lack of mask, right!

  3. Wow, this is so insightful and has helped me to make sense of what goes on in my own head. Thanks for sharing, Inari, and may you be blessed in your next chapter.

  4. My inner author told me that I was a certain kind of person, so I believed I was. I think we do the same to others, we see people a certain way and any new behavior that goes against our image we toss away, while things that fit with our image we add to the tally of how our assessment is accurate. Basically, I did that same thing with myself instead of looking at the evidence. I was not the strong independent woman I thought I was. It took someone who knew me well showing me the evidence of my cowering before I could break that graven image of myself and deal with reality. I hope that now I am dealing more with reality, but my guess is that the graven image I have of myself will be broken many more times before I am complete.

  5. I really liked this–I got divorced two years ago and had a really hard time talking about it for a while. I just couldn’t rewrite my story for myself or see myself in my new role–it was hard. It’s also easy in a situation like that to go back and rewrite the past–to say things were different or that feelings weren’t there, and so on. History can change through our telling of it and the motives we assign to actions, but I think sometimes it’s better to just go forward and not rewrite or reinterpret our past. I’ve also had a lot of experiences lately where, like the jendoop’s comment, I thought I saw myself in a certain way but others have helped me draw a more accurate assessment and reframe what kind of person I tell myself I am.

  6. every telling of the past changes the past and who you are changes with life experiences. It is hard to understand that life and memories are fluid. It does take time to be able to tell others about yourself and your past. Give yourself that time. It is a very private growing process you are going through. I am not the strong willed person I thought I was either. I am not sure right now what type of person I am because I am having a hard time justifying the input I am receiving from the people around me with my life experiences. I understand the difficulty of your experience. thank you for sharing.

  7. I read this wonderful post days ago and I have spent a lot of time pondering the stories I tell myself. I have also been thinking about how two people can experience the same event side by side and create completely different internal narratives. Whenever my sister and I talk about events from our childhood we realize how differently we have narrated them. I have also had many moments when I realize my children are narrating their lives in ways that I never expected!

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