Of Writing and Stories

Zwei Seelen wohnen ach in meiner Brust

(Goethe)

Alas two souls live within my chest, the one trained to shackle words, to make them march in predefined order, command approved phrases to rearrange meaning according to expectations, and one roaming in the wild, finding meaning as stories develop, taking a big stick and poking at dark corners, making sense through experiences, collecting, collating, analysing, telling stories and letting the words emerge, meander, until they fall into place—a place that makes sense, is shared, and invites others to share their stories.

Photo by Evie Shaffer on Pexels.com

We see knowledge as representing a range of views rather than a unitary truth. Whether as educators or learners we simultaneously occupy many different positions; our histories are complex, non-continuous […]

(Ryan & Walsh, 2018 , p.6)

Bear with me this is a story about writing. About finding my voice again. A story about unlearning what we have been drilled into doing with our words. It all follows the same model. There is not much in between space. An article written with my students is just going to be submitted to journal number three—it was too unconventional. It doesn’t quite fit. We challenge the norm of form. But writing itself is a method of inquiry (Richardson & St Pierre, 2015). During my PhD I had hit a wall and lost the joy of writing, so I signed up for a writing course, and we learned some free writing and creative writing techniques. These enabled me to break through my writer’s blog at the time. However, my struggle to force my doctoral project into this bizarre linear, sterile form—I rewrote the methodology chapter about 25 times—crushed my confidence in my ability to write. It took me years to find my voice and my confidence in writing again. Just because I tried to fit into an author’s dress that was the wrong size. The following is a bit of a long quote but it resonates with me strongly.

I recognized that those writing instructions were themselves a sociohistorical invention of our 19th-century foreparents. Foisting those instructions on qualitative researchers created serious problems; they undercut writing as a dynamic creative process, they undermined the confidence of beginning qualitative researchers because their experience of research was inconsistent with the writing model, and they contributed to the flotilla of qualitative writing that was simply not interesting to read because writers wrote in the homogenized voice of “science.”

(Richardson & St Pierre, 2015, p.1411)

So right now: I am writing in two voices, my academic, properly referenced, critically analysing self and my creative one. The story teller who is emerging from ancestral memories of fire and fur. The story teller who made sense of the world, the hunt, the animals, that created understanding of a deeper nature from tangential experiences. And thus it begins–a story, told at the fireside.

Man standing in front of a fire leaning on a walking stick

A story to fall back into writing

Soul memory, the archetype of wild woman wants to take hold of your hand and take you on an adventure. She wants to lead you through the mystery of growing up around nature, she wants to share her disappointment of animals not talking back at midnight on New Year’s Eve—instinctively the storyteller employed scientific method. But maybe just maybe she was looking for the wrong truth? Speaking in human tongue was not what the stories said, they just said speaking. She wants to pull you along as you run through thick golden leaves smell of bark, resin, and mushrooms saturating the woodland, each time your feet hit the ground a joyful rustle answers. Until you begin to fly, no need to push off the ground anymore, you leap with ease over fallen tree trunks and roots; spook a stag who shoots off into the thicket.

You want to roll down the sand dunes until you hit the freezing waters of the Atlantic, the seal is watching us curiously. Does he recognise us? My orange kayak and blue wetsuit? Let’s swim brother seal in the salty freeze, skin prickling as if we bathed in champagne but better, cleaner, clearer, colder. Don’t you love alliterations. There are no grey areas here you either swim or sink. You live and embrace, jump and rejoice, or you succumb to the cold and sink, sink, sink, into the deep. Sunlight becoming weaker, noise muffled, curious fish pass you by, until the seaweed jungle entangles you in her strong wet grip and you leave this realm.

To reappear again on top of a mountain. No energy gets lost. It’s all part of this system, with the rain you fall down on the mountain top—materialising amongst mountain goats, there is nothing much earthier than them here. She has taken you from the depth of the ocean to the height of the mountain, sheer rock faces on one side only the most skilful climbers dare to approach, and even so this is not without danger. Congelifraction has created treacherous footholds, so you steer away from these. The other side of the mountain deceiving softness as you survey the slopes covered thick in heather and fern. There is no path and you notice she has given you gators. Let’s run she shouts and shoots off downhill, half way down a path emerges and you continue on mountain bikes bunny hopping over small obstacles. You squeal with joy, there is freedom in speed. There is clarity in hyper focus, everything becomes larger, closer clearer, you are in flow.

Rubble flies as you break at the foot of the mountain, the Highland loch in front of you. A woodpecker’s persistent work echoes through the woods, Scots Pines are gnarly beauties, a stoat wizzes past as you sit down to rest, and let the gentle breeze cool the excitement from before. You dangle your feet in the cold water and take deep breaths. Here just here in that clearing you want to settle. Shadows of animals past blink in and out of the shaded woodland, a bear, some wolves, a moose who walked across the thick ice. It’s getting dark now and we wrap our furs tighter, a fire lid in front of us. Lady Luna shimmers above.

You have the urge to howl with the shadows past. Hunting. You feel your four paws hitting the ground, smell your prey’s warmth. You shake off the image, suddenly not so pleasant being back in your human self. But as the smoke rises from the fire so do the stories we have been telling one another for eons. Friend, my friend, so we meet again, in another time, another place—a strange one. We seem to have forgotten our stories. We have forgotten the call of the wolf, the shuffling of the bear, the rustle in the undergrowth.

Broken stories, however, can be healed. Diseased stories can be replaced by healthy ones. We are free to change the stories by which we live. Because we are genuine characters, and not mere puppets, we can choose our defining stories.

(Taylor, 1996, p.3)

For years academic training taught us to imprison our writing, to make our thoughts fit form. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Should form succumb to content? Surely there must be balance to be had a space to explore, to play, to shape and reshape words. Structure is incidental, it emerges from the implicit—words shape, create, make, build, form, negotiate meaning. The structure is an iterative negotiation between the intangible and the tangible.

Don’t tell me how to make the structure first; it inhibits the meaning making. No surprise can emerge from the expected. We have all heard of cases so desperate they made their findings fit a structure otherwise these findings would have been dismissed. But we lost important stories through this. We lost the stories of failing, of not finding, of lost data, of meaningless data, of ‘there is no there there, to see here’ data. We lost the stories of digging deeper, of asking the how’s, and whys and what’s. We lost this learning in our desperation to serve a form.

I am going to experiment more with writing voices, having come across Richardson and Pierre’s notion of writing as a method of inquiry. There are two different levels to this: writing as creating data, and writing as data interpretation. At the moment I am playing with voice.

References

Richardson, L., Adams, E., & Pierre, S. (2015). 36 Writing: A Method of Inquiry. In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology (pp. 1410–1444). Wiley Online Library. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781405165518.wbeosw029.pub2

Ryan, A., & Walsh, T. (2018). Reflexivity and critical pedagogy. In Reflexivity and Critical Pedagogy. Brill Sense.

Taylor, D. (1996). The Healing Power of Stories: Creating Yourself Through the Stories of

Your Life. New York: Doubleday.

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