You’ve got a story to tell. I know it. It’s probably snuggled down behind other activities most of the time, so you forget, but it creeps out more often than you realise. That’s because you tend to call it by other names. We all do.
‘You’ll never guess what happened today,’ you say.
Or, ‘Have you heard about…’
We tell tales, reminisce, gossip, exchange news, report facts…(this could turn into a thesaurus entry if I’m not careful) call it what you will, the principle is the same. We assemble incidents into a narrative of beginning, middle and end.
‘Ah,’ you say. ‘Real-life stories, they’re not the same as imaginative ones, are they?’
Poor story, you might have some pity for it. It’s hard to hold onto your identity when you don’t have a single, simple label to go by.
‘Wait,’ you say, ‘I’m known by more than just christian or surname and I’m clear about who I am.’
Yes, I know, you’re Susan. Except only one person calls you that, or when anyone does you know you’re in trouble. Generally, your name gets shortened to Sue, Susie or Suse – alternatively if you’ve a short name it probably gets an ‘ie’ added on. These of course are signals of friendship, even affection. Jakie for Jake, that’s nice.
You might have a nickname too, polite or otherwise, depending on whether it comes from affection or respect. There the scope is endless, does it describe your appearance, ‘Red’, ‘Mouse’, ‘Lofty’ – either literally or ironically? Perhaps it’s based on your personality, or achievement. Are you a ‘Prof’ or ‘Swifty’?
Then again, there are people who go by their surnames either in full, Parker, Evans, Farrell or shortened. Think ‘Lucky’ for Luckington, ‘Titch’ for Titchmarsh or how about ‘Jonesey’ for Jones.
It seems to me that we fit our names, and our names fit us. It’s a chicken and egg syndrome thing, isn’t it? Would you be the same person if you took on another name?
Rosamund Irene Baker, who’s had forty two years of being known as Rosie, has been a secretary for all of her working life. When her husband gets a new job on the other side of the country, Rosie follows suit. The couple move away from everyone they’ve known.
To her new neighbours she says, ‘I’m Rose.’
‘Call me Cookie,’ she says to her new colleagues.
At her daughters wedding, we’re quite a mix. Family and friends from all areas of her life mingle. Imagine this vast celebratory gathering of family and friends, old and new.
Rosamund Irene Baker, nee Barrington, moves amongst us in her best hostess mode, making introductions, sharing smiles and memories. She shifts between her personalities according to the story she shares with her companion. Some of these are single categories, others bridge several: childhood, teenage, marriage, parenthood, work, social, these are the simple divisions.
I’m not sure if Rosie exists anymore and I don’t think she is either. We old friends try to assimilate this familiar face with her new name, Rosie to Rose to Cookie. We pick up fragments of the alternative story, the anecdotes that seem out of kilter with the dimension of Rosamund we knew.
‘Imagine Rosie doing that,’ we might say to our partners on the journey home. ‘I’d never have thought it.’
Just when we think we know someone they reveal something surprising. That’s story, I think.
‘This week,’ I say to the writing group, ‘your subject is a wedding party.’ We do some brainstorming, build up a few ideas to get our memories and imaginations flowing. We speculate with, ‘what if’s.’ Somewhere along that route a switch is tripped and stories begin to form. They’re no more than sparks of inspiration, but we nurture them, feeding in ideas.
At the next meeting I enjoy eleven new stories. Each one unique, their subjects are murder, bigamy, jealousy, jilting, retribution, romance, gluttony and avarice. Are they true? Yes, every one, in its own way.