A couple of days ago, while searching for writing exercises for my Workshop, I came across one titled “Reshaping the Past” on Poets & Writers Tools for Writers.
- In Mary Karr’s new book, The Art of Memoir (Harper, 2015), she writes that “from the second you choose one event over another, you’re shaping the past’s meaning.” Think of a significant event from your past that you’ve written about before. Make a list of three other events or changes that were occurring in your life around that same time. Write an essay about one of these “secondary” events, focusing on deriving personal or emotional meaning out of this seemingly less impactful event.
The idea of shaping the past strikes me as interesting, particularly as I have spent years of my poetry exploring perception as truth. Interestingly though, as I attempted the exercise, it wasn’t the past I was trying to reshape, but the future I was trying to form.
As I think about this prompt and the idea of focus, it is entirely true that we can reshape our past by rewriting (or rethinking it). However, we can also go a step further and form our future with what we focus upon.
At the moment for example, I am mired in the stress of being new. As international educators, when we move, we also change jobs, change schools and change communities, all which fall in the Top 20 categories of major life stressors.
Oddly, for the past few days, I have been consumed with furniture. More specifically, my dislike of our furniture, which is perfectly functional but not to our taste. I regret selling all of our nice things in Kuwait rather than shipping them. I go back and forth between “living with what we have” and spending vast amounts of money so that we can be happy in our space (particularly, as when we left Kuwait and gave away copious amounts of things, we committed to being minimalist in our new home).
Yet, by focusing on my furniture and spending time mourning what I gave away, I am shaping my present reality in a negative way. I am forgetting all of the good things that we have here. The fact that we live in a great community, that our girls have lots of playmates, that we have a spacious villa, that we have a new life to create. I am literally consumed with my furniture questions. And to what expense?
The furniture issue will be resolved and it is fairly minor. Yet, I wonder how many other minor things consume us, shape our experience and change our attitudes and perspectives?
In life, do we see the 90% good or the 10% challenge?
In my previous role as a principal, I often reminded our faculty (and myself) of the 90/10 rule or the idea that we often spend 90% of our time on 10% of the problem, thereby thinking that the 10% represents the majority. For example, we may spend 90% of our time working with challenging behaviors in our classroom and forget that the other 90% of the students are not challenging.
Our thoughts and feelings become reality. Our perspectives and beliefs live in our biology and can significantly impact our future health. So what if, rather than simply try to “reshape the past,” we change what we see in the present? At any given moment, there are 2 or 3 or even 10 other options that will “shape” the meaning of our future, and I’m pretty sure I want my future to be about more than furniture…