In 2005, I joined a men’s group. Eight of us get together for two hours every fortnight. One man chooses a topic and leads the meeting. A couple of months ago, Brent offered the following life story exercise via a preparatory email sent in advance:
“…please read this short bit about Nabokov from the New Yorker:
‘Butterflies have extraordinarily short life spans, and Nabokov seems particularly intrigued by this quality of ephemeral metamorphosis. As he considers the frailty of the natural world, Nabokov also delves into the brittle nature of memory—how some paths remain vivid in our minds and others are lost or hidden. Memory, he notes, can be elusive, like the fragile creatures he pursues. Often, the stories we tell ourselves about the past happen to be superficial ones—and there is another central story that lies underneath, waiting to emerge.’
—Vladimir Nabokov’s “Butterflies”, The New Yorker, June 12, 1948
Can you tie together any memories of summer with this idea of Nabokov’s that “the stories we tell ourselves about the past happen to be superficial ones—and there is another central story that lies underneath, waiting to emerge?”
On reading the life story exercise, I immediately thought of my story “It wasn’t the lobster“. Though it took place twenty-five years ago, it seemed a perfect fit to Brent’s request. So that’s what I shared at the meeting.
To my surprise, other members also shared older stories. All the men in our group are over sixty years old, but we heard several childhood stories on a wide variety of topics. The exercise turned out to be unexpectedly and delightfully revealing.
We are the stories we tell about ourselves. We all enjoyed the evening and learned more about ourselves and each other.
If you meet in some kind of small peer group, try Brent’s exercise. Consider expanding it to any memories or stories of the past rather than a specific time period. Brent won’t mind…
Image attribution: Flickr user paolobarzman.