The Stories We Tell Ourselves

summer“I dream, I make up pictures of a summer’s afternoon.” – Virginia Woolf


Last night, I began reading Silent Dancing, a memoir by Judith Ortiz Cofer (of whom I am a huge fan!). In the preface, she begins by comparing memories of her childhood to “one perfect summer’s afternoon,” in which it is easy to forget about the hurtful parts and simply remember the happier times. She discusses the need that many of us have, as we look back, “to study ourselves and our lives in retrospect; to understand what people and events formed us (and, yes, what and who hurt us too).”

As a writer, I often find myself piecing together memories and romanticizing some of the less glamorous parts of my life, perhaps to my own detriment. I think this is part of the human condition; we create these stories about our lives that become part of our intricate mythology, and the stories become so ingrained in us that we can’t remember which details are historically accurate and which are wishful thinking. A few images from my own mythology are hard to shake — a boy playing Death Cab for Cutie on guitar when I was sixteen; endless afternoons at a retro burger restaurant with four best friends; that summer when my life was a Sarah Dessen book, down to every last trope that makes its way into young adult novels.

Of course, the stories we tell ourselves can make us nostalgic for the past, and we often forget the struggles that we faced in those times. We think back to our former experiences, jobs, friendships and relationships and remember the perfect summer afternoons, not the thunderstorms or the sleepless nights or the doubt or the heartache that came along with them. When we forget these challenges or minimize them, however, we don’t learn from our mistakes or move on properly.

It is important for us not to take too many creative liberties when looking back, and to remember that life changes for a reason. We change. And we will never be able to grow or truly experience life if we are stuck in that one seemingly perfect afternoon forever.

How Bittersweet It Is

After two years of new friendships, developing aspirations and lessons learned, I have finally moved out of my on-campus home, the dorm room where I grew up. At 2 p.m., my room became completely devoid of any evidence that it ever belonged to me, even with the two years of history we have together, and all of its contents are now split between a storage unit and my childhood bedroom.

My parents have had the same house since I was two years old, and so moving isn’t exactly my forte. I like the consistency of the room I’ve known forever. Living in the same dorm for two years brought with it a similar familiarity, one that made the transition to college much smoother.

As I stripped my walls of all their posters, collages and bulletin boards, I realized how much of an effect a place can have on you. I thought about the ups and the downs, the friends I’d made and the people who had disappointed me, the celebrations/birthdays I’d thrown and the days I’d lay sick in bed. I thought about all the roommates I had at different times in that room (six official, but sometimes it felt like a lot more!). I thought about my freshman year especially and everything it had taught me, and one thing rang true: for better or for worse, I’m going to miss this place.

In two weeks, I will move into an apartment off campus with two of my close friends, and I am very excited to live there with them. At the same time, a small part of me is sad to leave my old room behind. The move can be such a bittersweet thing, unearthing one’s nostalgia and painful memories, but the change (while scary) can also lead to bigger, better things.

What would you miss most about your apartment or dorm room? How do you feel about the next step?

The Story Of Us: Just Another Transition

While listening to Taylor Swift’s more recent single The Story of Us, I couldn’t help but think about how relationships (whether platonic or romantic) tend to come in stages. In the song, Swift sings about a once-iconic relationship that ended badly. She begins with the idea that the “story of us” is this effortless love story that she and her boyfriend will be telling their grandchildren, but then reveals that she and the former love of her life are no longer on good terms. Soon, that “story of us” becomes the story of how “I was losing my mind when I saw you here,” not about how sparks flew when they first met.

The lyrics and theme of The Story of Us reminded me that our relationships are constantly in a state of transition, and so are the stories we tell about the people in our lives. The guy you met in your bio class and instantly connected with might soon become the guy who took you on the perfect date, then the boyfriend everyone envies you for having, then the boyfriend who cheated on you with that girl down the hall, and finally the ex you run into on a plane and hardly speak to. All relationships begin and end differently, but most of them will have their beginnings and endings, and your perspective will certainly differ depending on the point you are at in that relationship.

It is important to accept that things are always going to change in some way. (Tweet this!) Even if you do find the love of your life, chances are your relationship will hit some bumps or adapt to the way you start to grow up. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Everything in your life can become a learning experience, a story you share with your friends and your children in the years to come, even if the story manifests itself differently at different points in your life. One day, your life might feel like a bad teen soap opera; the next, like a page out of an introspective Sarah Dessen novel; and maybe even one day like a really poignant memoir that gets all the glowing reviews.

“The story of us” could be, as T. Swift puts it, a “tragedy.” It could also turn into a comedy a few months or years down the line, when we finally start to ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?” Maybe the lessons learned in one relationship will help us recognize when we’ve actually found our perfect match in another, and will lead us to that happily ever after. Or maybe what we take away from a failed relationship will lead us to a greater understanding of ourselves.

Bottom line: Change can be good. Without it, we wouldn’t survive. The stories we tell about our life experiences will constantly be in a state of transition, because we ourselves are in that same state of transition, and we have to be prepared for the curveballs life will throw at us. Taylor Swift’s love story with so-and-so might be over, but that doesn’t mean that you have to look at your own ended relationships as tragedies. Look at them as transitions, and embrace the change as the catalyst that will lead to better things.

The Prom Obsession

Everybody’s talking about it. Where did you get your dress? Are you going in a limo or party bus? Who are you going with? My prom was two years ago, and yet wherever I go, prom is all I hear about. There’s a brand new movie dedicated to it, and why? All of my 90’s romantic comedies already feature a huge prom storyline, usually involving a nerdy girl and the Brad Pitt of high school, so I’m not sure why Disney felt a need to create a brand new movie on the subject.

Our modern culture tells us that prom night is the one night where you can feel like a princess at a ball, with Prince Charming on your arm. The night is supposed to be magical — that perfect evening when everything falls into place. Anyone who chooses to miss out on such a night is obviously crazy.

Looking back, I realize how meaningless it all really was. As someone whose friends forced her to go to prom, I can still remember all of the desperate arguments that “You’ll regret not going!” So I did shop for the dress (which, I’ll admit, was gorgeous) and had my hair styled for the occasion, but the dance itself was easily a disappointment. Two years later, I can recognize that prom was one of the least defining moments in my high school career.

Even more revolutionary was realizing how little high school means to me now. Yes, I did meet a few of my closest friends there (and I am not discounting them!), but for the most part, high school became a series of mental snapshots that I rarely look through now that I’m in college. When you’re young, two years can mean a lifetime, and now that such time has passed, much of my high school experience feels like part of someone else’s life, not mine.

A good friend of mine at college often argues that I must have been one of the cool kids in high school, which always makes me laugh. Much like now, I was a huge nerd — but at the time, I was a nerd who knew very little about herself or anything else. I don’t remember there being a stereotypical “cool” clique to begin with, and while a glance through my yearbook brings back to mind an overload of memories and gossip, high school itself is not something that shapes who I am now.

I hope that any high school students who aren’t enamored with the experience will realize that life gets a whole lot better, and that the things that drive you crazy now probably won’t mean much to you in the future. Soon enough, the story about the boy who broke your heart before Homecoming will seem funny, you’ll forget about the various cliques and prom night will become one of those mental snapshots that won’t have a major impact on you.