A pre-birthday trip to Lewisburg, West VIrginia, and an opportunity to reflect on life’s stories and the power of being human. Last week I met a dear friend in Lewisburg, West Virginia, for a long weekend together, in part to celebrate early my coming birthday which was going to occur in the next few days. We stayed in the General Lewis Inn, a lovely, small, historic inn perched on a high hill near the edge of town. If you’ve ever been to Lewisburg, you know that it is a charming spot in that part of the country. The town itself – at least the central business district – is just a few blocks long. But within that easy walk there are three fine restaurants, a lovely antique store that also sells wine and cheese, a theater that hosts live stage performances throughout the year, a bookshop, coffeehouse, and a couple of boutiques with not-so-inexpensive outfits to purchase! In fact, for years I have traveled to Lewisburg – with and without spouse – to enjoy the town, the Inn, and just generally to relax from my otherwise overly busy life.
Now despite the fact that it rained off and on all weekend, we got in some great walks and of course ate great food. And another thing we did enjoy a great deal was sitting on the Inn’s grand front porch, sipping champagne after our arduous hikings about town.
During the late morning hours after our walk – since I never miss a morning’s opportunity to get a little serious work done – as we sat on that front porch, I began to get into the non-fiction book I had brought along: William Randall’s The Narrative Complexity of Ordinary Life: Tales from the Coffee Shop. He’s a Professor of Gerontology at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and is also an ordained minister with the United Church of Canada. I ran across Randall’s name in some of the research I’m doing for the chapter I’m currently working on, which is concerned with the losses in our lives. How we deal with losses and rewrite the story of our lives in the process.
If you’ve read my earlier books, my writing centers around the notion that we are wired for story – creating our life stories from the time we are two years old and playing in the sandbox to the end of our sentient days. Randall puts this basic power of being human this way:
We live amid narrative structures and narrative processes every hour of every day, enmeshed in countless storylines at once – those we spin around the experiences we remember, the world we inhabit, and the people we relate to not to mention the storylines those people spin around us. And this says nothing of the stories we consume each day in newspapers and novels, or savor in movies, or swap in conversation – whose themes and scenes can haunt our thoughts for years. (p. vii)
I’m well into Randall’s book, and it’s a delight to read. It’s part of a whole series of books being published by Oxford University Press on “Explorations in Narrative Psychology.” Published in 2015, I commend the book to you if you are interested in the topic.
I also want to take this opportunity to mention – for those of you who live in the region of Richmond, Virginia – that I’m giving an invited talk at the Chrysalis Institute downtown this next week (7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8). I’ll draw from Randall as well as others, but also principally focus on my own current project which I’ve talked about before in these blogs. Should be fun – it’s expected to be a small, intimate gathering with perhaps about 40 folks in attendance. If you go to my Appearances page on this website, you can get further information about the location and contact information for the talk.
In any case, let me end this “birthday excursion” with a couple of quotes Randall uses near the beginning of his volume. He cites Barbara Hardy who in 1968 said “we dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate, and love in narrative.” And finally a quotation by Christina Baldwin, affirming that “everyone is born into life as a blank page – every person leaves life as a full book.”
May your own book be finely written!