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“True to Life” step one

From “True to Life: 50 steps to help you tell your story.” 
Believe in your stories and your right to tell them
has a story worth telling, a saga worth listening to. Have you ever been bored
somewhere when the dull-looking stranger nearby opened up and began to talk? I
can still hear the man beside me on the plane who’d just been diagnosed with
multiple sclerosis and was afraid for his children; the woman at a party who
dressed hetero
sexual men in women’s clothing for a living. (“They all think they have great
legs,” she told me.) Flannery O’Connor famously said that anyone who gets
through childhood has enough to write about for the rest of time. We all
contain a universe of stories.
But which ones to write down
and which to share with others? And who would be interested in your stories?
Who cares if you write or not? Don’t you have something more useful to do than
fiddle around in your own head? Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?
I remember a young student,
Grace, who worked hard to write well but every week read us pieces swimming in
sweetness. She wrote nothing personal or risky, just generalizations about
togetherness and, one week, a homily about 9/11. We could not convince her to
speak in her own voice and be honest about her own truths.
On the last day of class, she
rushed in, breathless and apologetic. She hadn’t had time to write that week,
she said, and so had just dashed something off. She was sure it was stupid and
And then she read. She told us
her older sister was a drug addict whose two small children were about to be
taken away and put up for adoption. Grace wanted to adopt them. She had found a
job in day care, and the summer before she’d volunteered at an orphanage in
Romania, a gruelling experience. She hoped her dedication and expertise would convince the authorities she’d be a responsible caretaker for her
“I’m going in front of the
judge tomorrow,” she said. “I’d pass out from fear, except that I love those
kids so much.”
We were so surprised and moved
that for a moment no one knew what to say.
Crestfallen, Grace said, “I
knew it was terrible. I’m, like, the most boring person on earth.”
And we rushed to tell her how
riveted we’d been by her treatise on the power of blood ties. I hope she
believed us. I hope the judge believed her.
When we tell of the things we
care about most deeply, when we dare to write with courage and honesty in our
own clear voices, we can mesmerize an audience, as Grace did. We all have
powerful, important stories. But sometimes we don’t know what they are, and we
don’t know how to tell them.
What stories do you tell the
stranger sitting next to you on the plane? What are the big stories stored in
your head and heart? Is it time to write them down?
Whoever you are, no
matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Mary Oliver



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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