The Final Part to “In Which a Story Unfolds”

Ink on paper and video

In Which a Story Unfolds

Today’s drawing, writing, and video-reading (see below) were completed within 24 hours.

Much of what I have learned of life and the world, is from books. This isn’t to say that I haven’t had adventures and experiences, for I have. I’ve had enough experiences to feel different climates on my face, to witness many different people and what they’ve created in the world. All of these adventures, including a few big ones —but mostly the small kind— have been supported and encouraged by books.

Stories kept me quiet company when the world seemed too big and fast and loud. Stories gave me inspiration when the house was quiet and the world muffled by snow. Stories gave me a constant companion: each thought and character and question I gained from a book became an intimate part of me, soon my “self” was not just a solitary person, but a person who grew from other’s stories. 

As a teenager, I preferred spending time with books to spending time with peers. In that time of flux, of urgency, and of trying to figure out “who I was”, I wanted to know that there was more to the world than just my experience. And so, I read mythology and science fiction, philosophy and feminism, poetry and fantasy, essays and letters.  All this reading created a world within me, one that constantly expands and one that stretches out to meet the world around me. And now I know, it is through story that I see the world.  

It had been several years since my family had a real vacation, life brought a series of challenges our way for a number of years and the four of us, collectively, resting seemed impossible. This spring, after decisions and budgeting, we found ourselves on a beach near some mangroves on an island made of shells off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. As we prepared for the trip, I had an idea: to embrace the stories I love so much, I would write a story to accompany my daily art for CognEYEzant, each day, while I was away.

The day before we left, when the wind blew through the trees and the sun trickled down between the clouds, I pulled one of Jamie Sams’ “Medicine Cards”, one for each day of the story. In order, the cards were: Dolphin, Hawk, Porcupine, Fox, Frog, Butterfly, Moose, Blue Herron, Rabbit, Mouse, Bear, Dragonfly, Lizard, and Spider.

With the guidance from the “Medicine Cards” and my memories of adventures, I wrote and experienced the story evolving each day. Spending over two weeks on the island, I realized this was the longest time I’d ever been away from home. Home, that place of reflection and stories. 

Remembering home brought up other memories, and soon I was reflecting on my experience as an adolescent and how important the search for self has been in my life. On the first day of the story the protagonist asks a question “who am I?” And this question begins her journey and she searches the entire world for the answer. As I wrote, I realized that it’s easy to mistake self for the experience, but I believe self is what we bring to our experience.

On the island in a nature preserve, there is a path that weaves through Calusa Shell Mounds. By the time my family walked the path, my protagonist had already met her shadow and I knew she would meet her reflection.

As storm clouds waited overhead, we read a kiosk explaining the life of the Native People that populated South Western Florida. Pointing to the bottom right of the kiosk my sister said  “Look, it’s like your story.” A small plaque explained that the Calusa believed people had three souls: one soul in the pupil of the eye, one soul in the shadow, and one soul in the reflection in the water.

In that moment, I felt my story in the world and history around me. And from that moment on, writing the story felt less like making something up, and more like documenting life.

The process of creating this story, which I named “In Which a Story Unfolds”*, made me both nostalgic and incredibly vulnerable. Recalling the stories I read when I was little and my experiences, the story became more and more personal as it went on. In all honestly, I am afraid to be vulnerable and personal, because being protective feels safer. But as the protagonist learns, she realizes being challenged is a part of life. She, as I have, learns that trust is scary and things fail and are overwhelming and uncertain. And that all of this has the potential to make life beautiful.

Perhaps I’ve been drawn to stories because within them, life can be somewhat predictable, adventures make sense, and the stories eventually end. But, life is not like this, our experiences are wild and utterly different and completely unpredictable. Stories are a representation of life, an ideal or commentary, and to represent life and experience —in words and images— means you must stare directly into the face of life, means you must remember and be vulnerable and, perhaps, be scared. And all of this has the potential to make stories beautiful.

My family’s journey home was unpredictable: intense seasonal allergies prevented us from flying home and a day before we planned to fly, we found ourselves on the road, preparing for the 36 hours in the car. As we traveled home, when the writing was nearly done, I did not know how to end the protagonist’s story, for much like mine, hers was not over, just changed. 

I did not plan for this story to be a circular one, only for the protagonist to find what she was looking for in the place she began her journey. Before writing this story, I only had a vague concept of literary ring compositions”, knowing only that they were stories that concluded near where they began. In Mary Douglas’ essay on ring composition “Thinking in Circles” she writes that,

“Ring composition is found all over the world […] It is a construction of parallelisms that must open a theme, develop it, and round it off by bringing the conclusion back to the beginning.”

Now that “In Which a Story Unfolds” is fleshed out, ending near where it began; now that the images rest, waiting for the day when they will be formatted and printed into a book; finally, my experience with the story is taking on a kind of circular composition. The project ended while CognEYEzant continues and I finished writing the story, but the story did not end because, in all honesty, I am still living it.

Now I am beginning to understand that life will always be unpredictable and vulnerable. Now I am beginning to understand that stories are companions and outlets, they can take our vulnerability and turn it into courage. 

Stories remind us that we are not the only ones journeying through life. 

And stories remind us that life’s journey continues 

on and on, 

over and over. 

Click the video below and let me read you the story.

*The title “In Which a Story Unfolds” is a pun, once the art and text are formatted and printed and cut —just right— it will be folded up into a book, each page unfolding as you read.

View the previous posts: One”, “Two“, “Three“, “Four“, “Five” “Six”, “Seven“, “Eight“, “Nine“, “Ten“, “Eleven“, “Twelve“, “Thirteen“, “Fourteen“.

350 days done, 15 to go.