And then…we change the story!

Story is a map; and the story that gets one person through helps to get the next person through. (C. Baldwin in Storycatcher.)

Winter sunset from my desk.

Scattered across my laptop screen are files that contain opening paragraphs of my autumn’s attempts to write a blog entry. The happy reason for blog silence is my commitment to writing a novel in the creative hours I carve out of a week. An unhappier reason is how easily my attention has been engulfed in our great catastrophes. After awhile I’m not sure what more to say.

When a Canadian friend visited recently I cautioned her, “Crossing into the US right now you are entering a trauma-field of constant media overwhelm. Across a broad spectrum of politics, race, gender, religion, we are aware of the distress we’re in, and how little we seem able to manage it. It’s like the whole country is driving on black ice: we feel the vehicle of our civil life veering out of control. We may have our hands on the steering wheel, but we’re not the ones steering. We may want to hit the brakes or accelerate, but we know that any misaction will throw the car (and country) into total skid. Multi-vehicle pile-ups are everywhere. Most people are just trying to get ‘safely home’—whatever that means—but we are driving through our lives in growing panic.”

Our hearth in winter

I have been hyper-aware how almost every conversation diverts into a downward spiral. Talk about the weather— it spirals into climate change. Talk about sports—it spirals into protests and corruption. Talk about men in public life—it spirals into sexual harassment. Talk about politics—it spirals into despair. There is no “happy place” in these conversations, and I fear we are entrenching ourselves in defeatism.

In my 30’s, I was in a group of several women who met monthly to discuss each other’s dreams. This meant unpacking the imagery, often dialoguing between characters (aspects of self), and sometimes finishing an interrupted storyline, or creating a different ending so that we could imagine a way out of a situation.

Around that time I had a recurring dream of a bear chasing me across my yard. I would make it safely to the house and lock the door and then realize it was just a screen door. The bear would arrive, start to claw at the screen, and I’d wake up. So I finished the dream by dialoging with the bear: “Who are you and what are you in my dream to tell me? Why do you want to catch me? What will happen if I let you in?” I created an ending to the dream: I let the bear in. We danced. Years later, when I was writing Life’s Companion and exhausted during the final chapters, I remembered the bear and called it to my back, leaned into its strength, and typed my way to the final page. Susan Seddon Boulet, who illustrated the cover and inner section pages, drew this image for me.

Susan Boulet, Woman in Bear Hug, collection of the author.

This is what we need now! We need to end every dive into the nightmare with a new ending: a story that inspires us forward. Talk about the weather— it spirals into climate change—and then we talk about the healing capacities of Earth and our love of nature. Talk about sports—it spirals into protests and corruption—and then we talk about human strength and the wonders of our bodies. Talk about men in public life—it spirals into sexual harassment—and then we speak of the men of integrity we know. Talk about politics—it spirals into despair—and then we imagine a revitalized democracy emerging.

Story is a map. We are at the end of the known story and it is our work now to map our way forward through imagining the possibilities into being. We can change the ending of this nightmare and dance with the bears, transform the dragons, rest in beauty.

Once upon a time… and then…and then…and then.

Original cover of my book, Life’s Companion, Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest, Bantam, 1991.





20 replies
  1. Katherine Murphy
    Katherine Murphy says:

    Happy New Year! I’ve been working hard to respond to comments with ” Yes, and, I’m for, or yes, I’m doing this.” I read enough to get the facts and I watch or listen to almost zero real time news. I cannot live on full alert status and so I read things and, very carefully, watch things live (or recorded) that use primary sources. And I’m working to remember that every human deserves to be treated with respect, even when I respectfully wish to show them into a jail cell. And I’m listening to wise voices and reading wise books. And I’m working with the League of Women Voters both here in Vancouver and throughout Washington to books civics literacy and strength communities. And I’m remembering that we live in a vast universe, that our species is really not very grown up on cosmic timeline, and that all I can do is to try and act with integrity to increase my circle of influence. And I walk the dog everyday and take flower photos because it is a beautiful world filled with billions of humans doing their best to be kind.


    • C Baldwin
      C Baldwin says:

      This is a lovely message Katherine, and I know you are a quiet role model to many. Hooray for the Leage of Women Voters balance with dog walking and flowers. Be well in this coming year.

  2. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    I love you. On this eve of the “arrival” of our One of Peace–never more needed–thank you for your words. I’m so glad you are working on your novel. I look forward to hearing bits and bits in March. And seeing you in February! G

  3. Karyl Howard
    Karyl Howard says:

    Thank you, Christina! Your words and your spirit are always so wise. You are a gift to all of us! May your bear continue to be strong!

  4. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    What a gorgeous post, Christina. I love the courageousness of “and then.” (notice I didn’t say fearlessness…it’s all still so fearful, yet you keep the story going anyway) Thank you so much for this.

  5. Katharine
    Katharine says:

    I must have been riding the energetic slipstream of your writing here, Christina, when I knew earlier this week the time had come to write a new story about some recent life events. Yes, once upon a time and then. Thank you.

  6. Ruth Pittard
    Ruth Pittard says:

    I am sharing this thought that arrived via someone I have forgotten this fall: In these trying times, living joyfully is a sacred act of revolution! I am each day modeling joyful engagement and living so we won’t forget that there is an alternative to the current state that is not joyful. And joy is contagious…… is love. It will spread…..

    • C Baldwin
      C Baldwin says:

      Thank you, Ruth… and all the lovely comments here! Blessings in the last days of one year and breathing into the first days of the new year.

  7. Ann Darling
    Ann Darling says:

    The black ice analogy is, as my husband remarked, EXACTLY correct for us, Christina – we just needed for you to voice the thought! Thank You.
    Very best wishes to you and Anne for a healthy, joy-filled 2018. Thank you for all you both do to forward goodness in our world.

  8. Christine Doyle
    Christine Doyle says:

    Some time in October, in despair around our president and his words and actions, I wondered what I could do to change my own energy around him. I came across a photo of him in our local paper; his face was pleasant-looking and I had an inspiration. Posting the photo in a prominent spot on my refrigerator, I typed the following and positioned it below:
    Evoking Compassion, Humility and Honesty.
    Perhaps, if I change the story in my heart, something will come forth.

    • C Baldwin
      C Baldwin says:

      Thank you for this inspiration right back! I do a lot of singing–and internal chant called Angel Wash–lyrics adaptable: “I behold you beautiful one. I behold you child of the Earth and Sun. Let’s the love wash over you. Let the love wash over you.” Calms me right down, because I receive it as I send it. But I don’t know if I’m brave enough to put his photo on the fridge. Good for you.

  9. Terry Chase
    Terry Chase says:

    I love the Bear story and your willingness to meet him/her at the door and then welcome into your home space. Gets me thinking about what Bear am I running from and an invitation to stop, turn around and greet…thank you Christina for again waking my heart and soul with your words and loving kindness.


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