I wrote this one back in November and never hit “publish”…so here it is now:
As a new improvisor, I remember being awed by how quickly experienced improvisors created stories and brought them to life. They were just so fast. I certainly could never do that.
As I became more experienced in working with stories and re-engaged with the joy of making things up, I started to learn how quickly my own brain worked to create stories AND how one of the many challenges of co-creation is to simultaneously allow stories to blossom in our imaginations and to discard them in response to what someone else says or does.
I became fascinated with the process, with how we are storied creatures. This is what humans do; we tell stories. We are made for it. Our brains are wired for it. If someone asks you to use the words cow, spoon and river in a sentence, you’ll do it by creating a very brief story. I immediately see a cow floating down a river with a spoon around her neck. That’s what my imagination offers me. I’m curious about that image…I’ll have to see where that story goes.
As a drama therapist with and interest in narrative therapy, I’ve had many opportunities to explore how stories function — both to hurt and to heal — in people’s lives, including my own. Again and again, I’ve reawakened to that early improv-based discovery — we create stories fast. Improv has helped me become more aware of the process and also the rate at which we discard our imagination’s offerings because they are not good enough, funny enough or some other reason. (Really? A cow on a raft on a river? That makes no sense, there’s no story there.)
As a parent, sometimes my story-ing is wonderful and helpful at imagining what might be going on in LP’s world. Other times it gets in the way. When I don’t realize that I’ve created a story about her experience and am missing her expressing her actual experience, we are often bound for a clash or a visit to tantrumville. Truly, nothing sets off my girl like the phrase “I know…” even if it is something I do know is true for her. She is sensitive to that turn of the phrase and I think the meaning underneath it — that I already have a story about her that explains it all.
A recent life example: LP had her first dentist visit last week. She was a trooper and for the most part pretty curious and engaged. Until the tooth polishing. She tried to climb out of the chair so fast it was hard to catch her. After a bit of coaxing (and a promise of a red balloon), LP was willing to lie on top of me on the chair. The dental hygienist said (and I echoed) “It’ll go real fast” and LP fought her hands away protesting. It took some work to help calm her down and then LP said, “NO. Not fast, slow.”
Oh. Yes. That is her telling her story, expressing her needs. I would want it to go fast so of course that was the story I told myself about what LP wanted. However, LP is different she wants it to go slow. And with the dental hygienist going slowly she was able to have every tooth polished and when it was over, she seemed quite proud about that.
Our innate story ability is a beautiful, amazing thing AND as parents who have such influence over our little people’s worlds it is important to take moments to check-in and see if the story we have about them matches their reality.