Thursday, December 28, 2017

Autism Answer: Creating My Life With Intentional Storytelling (A Story To Start The New Year)

"Narrative and stories are thrown at people from all directions. It's easy to accept them and forget the power that they have. Yet with simple shifts Tsara Shelton suggests people can take advantage of that power by telling stories with purpose. Practicing intentional storytelling can make individuals and whole families happier and smarter." <--- That is an excerpt from this Press Release about storytelling.  The press release was written years after I had taken the time to craft and practice and live the benefits of what I first began to create for myself about twenty years ago. Following is the story of my budding new belief and how I tried to explain it to my then-boyfriend (now husband). I want to share it with you now as we step into a new year, it's a way of giving you the gift of intentional storytelling as a new understanding. In this way you can take it into the new year and create what you want out of it.  I don't know if it will do for you what it has done for me (in a word: happiness) but I hope it will give you a reminder of how powerful our personal stories are. And at the very least I hope you enjoy my telling of it. Happy almost new year, friends!!! ~Tsara

Creating My Life With Intentional Storytelling

With the sound of my boyfriend’s rusty old truck droning in my ears and the messy look of our small Texas town passing by my window I replayed his recent words in my mind, almost encouraging the annoyance to build. “It’s easier for you to be happy because your life is easier.” 

In that moment years’ worth of purposefully creating and discovering my personal beliefs about
Back in our boyfriend/girlfriend days.
happiness ignited into an uncharacteristic flame of what felt like justified anger.

“No. No it’s not,” I insisted. “My life seems easier to you because I do it well. I tell and live the story of my life happily. With intentional storytelling I am happy and I live life easier because I decide to. Not because my life is easier.” 

My boyfriend – who would soon become my husband – risked a short peek in my direction. The disbelief, almost condescending, was evident on his dark, handsome face.

As he returned his attention to the road ahead of him I heard myself lay out my proof.

“You know, I could just as easily describe my days as grueling and unfair.” A little bit crudely I affected a whiny voice. “Oh, dear me. My disabled brothers are such a burden, why must I be forced to live without the ease and freedom other sisters get to have? People stare at us, they are cruel and constantly judging us. Living with my brothers means things are always lost or broken. And me with my own problems! I was molested as a child! And I have been in an abusive relationship! I couldn’t take care of myself and went home for help. Woe is me, why must I live again with my mom? I’m such a loser!” I was almost having fun letting loose with this act and started really getting into it, holding my hand up to my forehead and closing my eyes as though all the troubles in the world were giving me a headache. “We’re poor, and I can’t even get a legitimate job because I don’t have my green card yet. And I couldn’t even work anyway because who, oh who, would take care of my babies? Besides, no matter how hard we work, and we work hard, we’re always poor. New shoes? Not in this lifetime! Oh, me oh my, the world is so cruel and my sons are treated differently. Not only because I’m a single mom but also because they are brown skinned. What a horrible hard life I have!”

As I acted out this pretend speech full of true things I was unexpectedly offered a great opportunity to solidify and make clear for myself the concrete real world power of what I was beginning to dub “intentional storytelling”. 

So, that hot afternoon in the cab of a rusty old truck driving from one small town in Texas to another small town, my much older than me black boyfriend listened as his much younger Canadian white girl girlfriend (Read: me) gave a passionate and meaningful rundown of her life and how she had made happiness a habit.

As a little girl I worked hard to be liked by others. I quickly learned that being a good listener and being mostly happy made me easy to like. Admittedly, for the longest time I was merely pretending to listen, so busy was I in my head hoping to be liked. But a degree of happiness tended to come natural to me.

Now, I am human. So I have been hurt, confused, wrong, and wronged. But with an eye on happiness I discovered (eventually) a way to learn from, understand, and disallow most of that negativity. 

Through intentional storytelling. Through the act of telling the story of my days, my life, my moments, with the intention of displaying the goodness. Whether telling it to myself or to others, always the intention was telling an authentic story that was hopeful, thoughtful, and ultimately, happy. 

At this point in my long winded argument, partly because we were almost at our destination - an Auto Parts Store - but mostly because I felt I was on the precipice of truly understanding something about myself, I spoke strong and clear.

“Do you see? My life has been, and is, just as hard as most people. But because I tell the story of my days with the intention of highlighting the happiness, the gifts, the things I’ve learned rather than the hurt, the unfairness, the things done to me, I’m actually truly happy. Sure, I talk about the hard stuff, but with the intention of finding and saying what I get out of it. Do you see?”

Pulling into the small parking lot of the store where my mechanic boyfriend was about to purchase a part for the car he’d been working on for a neighbor, he looked at me and smiled. 

“Well, two people can look at the same thing and see something different.” His go-to statement every time it was obvious we weren’t anywhere near agreeing or understanding each other.

At the time, I just shrugged. “It’s his loss,” I thought to myself, too busy being excited at my own newly concrete understanding of who I was to need validation. 

Now, happily married to that handsome mechanic for over seventeen years, co-parenting our blended family with eight colorful kids, I still share with him the value of intentional storytelling. Our happy home has benefited from it. 

But I, too, have benefitted by willingly seeing that my husband was also right. As a black man – now in his sixties – living his entire life in small town Texas with a personal history unlike anything I want to, but I do, believe, his life has always been harder and more unfair than mine. 

So now we intentionally tell our story together. And with the twining of our drastically different histories, habits, and beliefs it has become a little bit harder for me. 

But we are both happier. 
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I hope you enjoyed my story! If you are interested in diving deeper into the art and power of intentional storytelling feel free to read my book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself. Admittedly, the book is about me and my life, the stories are told my way and in my voice, and so the art and power of intentional storytelling is on display but not given the diversity of voice and style that is absolutely possible and necessary. As I say in my book, I hope you will do that. I hope you will discover your style of intentional storytelling and use it to enhance your life and the lives of those around you. Step into the new year with the knowledge of your power and the desire to use it well! Happy New Year, friends!! 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!