Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life

Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life

by Kim Schneiderman

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608682324
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 06/09/2015
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 256,154
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Kim Schneiderman counsels in private practice, writes for a variety of readerships in print and online, and teaches as a professor and guest lecturer in venues including New York University. She lives in New York City.

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Preface: My Story

When I was a little girl, I used to sign my name “Kim S., in person.” Between my highly active imagination, my obsession with Nancy Drew books, and my daily diet of television, I had the uncanny sense that I was a character in a story. I couldn’t exactly say why or who was watching. Perhaps it was because of my well-meaning parents, whose behavior vacillated from overbearing to self-absorbed, or the inflated sense of self-importance that afflicts many would-be writers who imagine themselves as the stars of their own terribly compelling dramas.

My sense of being a character, though tempered by maturity, followed me into adulthood, where I kept it under wraps, while secretly turning to my “Kim S.” alter ego in times of stress. Whenever I had a “why me?” moment — times when I felt victimized by difficult people or circumstances — I’d imagine reading about the exact same situation in a novel. First, I would ask myself, “What would I hope the main character would do in response to these circumstances? What actions or outcomes would I root for as the reader of this story?” Second, because I appreciate good character development in novels, I’d wonder, “Why would a benevolent author place this character in this particular situation?” And, “What might this situation be teaching her?” Finally, because I see life as a spiritual story that I’m coauthoring: “How might she make the most of this situation to become a stronger, more-compassionate human being?”

The answers to these questions and similar lines of inquiry helped me successfully navigate many challenging chapters in my life, emerging from them as a stronger, wiser, and happier person. Enhanced by my insights as a psychotherapist and journalist, such questions became the basis for a series of writing workshops I began offering around the New York metropolitan area in 2008. My hope was that self-exploratory writing in the third-person voice could help participants — many of whom had been impacted by the recession — reframe their losses as stepping stones to a richer spiritual life and a deeper sense of self.

Like the protagonist in many stories, my Pollyannish premise was soon put to the test. In February 2012, my seventy-two-year-old father developed an aggressive form of cancer that took his life a few months later. Suddenly, I was a single, middle-aged orphan. My father’s death was the third cancer fatality in my small, immediate family in seven years. In 2005, my sixty-one-year-old mother lost her decade-long battle with ovarian cancer. Less than a year later, my father found love again. Four years later, his girlfriend died after a year-long battle with lung cancer, also at sixty-one.

After experiencing so many devastating losses, I had to ask myself, “Could I walk my talk? Did I truly believe that I had the power to transform my tragedies into triumphs simply by choosing to widen the lens through which I viewed my own story?”

Yes, I did, but understanding how requires reading between the lines. My father was the antagonist of my childhood story. The external narrative — how it looked from the outside — was that he was a good provider who worked tirelessly to offer his children all the opportunities he had been denied growing up in a working-class Jewish family in the Bronx. Yet the internal story, how I experienced him, was quite different. I never felt he understood me. He was a benevolent despot of sorts, and his “because I told you so” was never a satisfying response to all my important “why” questions. Because I was equally headstrong, I challenged him, and I made my mother my confidante. When I graduated college, I moved to San Francisco, putting several cities and mountain ranges between us.

Yet our story took an unexpected, positive turn after my mother died and I moved back to New York. Suddenly, my father and I were spending more time together, grieving my mother over Chinese food, biking up northern Westchester trails, sharing our mutual love of dance, and flying to California for family gatherings. I was older and wiser, and having undergone years of therapy, I had come to appreciate my father’s many positive attributes without taking his rougher edges quite so personally.

It wasn’t until my father suddenly became ill that our father-daughter narrative reached its inevitable climax.

It’s December 2011. My father, who has recently moved to Florida, has just been transferred from intensive care to a hospice unit at Delray Medical Center, less than a mile from his new home in Boca Raton. The admitting nurse explains that he needs twenty-four-hour supervision to receive services at home. My brother is immersed in a rigorous master’s program at Cornell University. I have been my father’s primary health advocate for the past three months, flying back and forth between my life in New York and Florida. Hiring a full-time aide is not only unaffordable, it’s also unthinkable.

So I decide to take a leave of absence — from my private practice, my friends, my community, and my frenetic but full life in Manhattan — to care for my father. It’s been eighteen years since we lived under the same roof; the last time, he was my provider. Now, the tables are not only turned, they are covered with painkiller cocktails, Ensure, and a stockpile of sweets. Over the next two months, I fix his meals, administer his meds, clean his house, learn to manage his finances, and hold his hand, both figuratively and literally, through waves of fear and pain.

Despite the stress, which I alleviate with exercise and beach walks, I feel my heart softening and expanding. My father and I share surprising moments of tears and laughter. We come to appreciate each other’s minds, feelings, and strengths more deeply. Old friends and family show up to talk about the good old times, offer support, and say their good-byes. I reconnect with long-lost relatives and see how fortunate I am to have such a supportive community of friends and family.

As this new and final chapter in our story continues to cook us, all our oniony father-daughter pungency melts into sweetness. One evening, my father tells me that, despite his fear and misery, he can’t believe he is still learning and growing. I ask what he means, and he responds, “That people have found a way to love me and that I have found a way to love them.” That’s all he ever wanted. That’s all anyone ever wants, isn’t it?

Today, I realize there are many ways to spin my story. Mine is but one version; others might tell it differently. As both the narrator and protagonist of my narrative, I exercise my authorship rights to tell it as a story of love and redemption . . . of the prodigal daughter, perhaps.

I also recognize that not all stories end in redemption. There is a place in this world for sadness. The more tragic the event, the more difficult it can be to put our faith in an empowering narrative. Some events — war, genocide, terrorism, disease, poverty — can lead us to question the stories we’ve always taken for granted. They defy the comforting plotlines or the preexisting narratives we have created about divinity, humanity, and justice. Had I been given a choice, I would have chosen another storyline and resolution for my life’s lessons. But for now, I embrace the gifts of my bittersweet fortune.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Table of Contents

Contents

Preface: My Story
Introduction

Chapter One. Embracing the Story Lens on Life
Chapter Two. Shifting Your Perspective
Chapter Three. Getting to Know the Star of Your Story
Chapter Four. The Roles We Play
Chapter Five. Who’s Writing Your Script?
Chapter Six. Naming and Describing Your Chapter
Chapter Seven. Doom or Bloom: Exploring the Power of Spin
Chapter Eight. Conflict: The Ultimate Character Workout
Chapter Nine. Reading Between the Lines: Exploring Character Strengths and Vulnerabilities
Chapter Ten. Using Dialogue to Mine Your Story and Transform Your Character
Chapter Eleven. Supporting Characters and Other Resources
Chapter Twelve. Climax: As Your Story Turns
Chapter Thirteen. Falling Action: Getting the Closure You Need
Chapter Fourteen. Resolution: Finding the Silver-Lining Narrative
Chapter Fifteen. Epilogue: Imagining What’s Next
Chapter Sixteen. Step Back into Your Story
Chapter Seventeen. Your Work in Progress

Acknowledgments
Notes
About the Author

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