Show Your Work

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My aunt and uncle's home in New Hampshire is a place of refuge for me. It's a place to spread out and rest, to cozy in under blankets and warm socks by the fire.

So much of what is said there sticks firmly in my memory and travels with me on the way, including a conversation I had with my aunt once about a book she had recently read. It was by someone like Thomas Moore, and her complaint was that it was heavy on conclusions but light on narrative. She said, "I wanted him to show his work--I wanted to know how he got there, what he was reading, who he was talking to, what was happening in his life."

And I knew it wasn't just the science teacher in her talking.

The journey doesn't only matter, but it in itself is instructive, even though it is still common practice to separate wisdom from the stories that landed us on its shore.

Showing your work isn't easy--it's hard to sometimes understand the way different parts or pieces synthesize together inside of us. It's hard to acknowledge the influence of people we'd rather forget, to talk about the breaking and losing in equal measure as the building and finding.  And no matter how we try, the closest we can get is an approximation of the whole, which is more richly textured and multi-dimensional than our screens and pages can hold.

And yet. Showing Your Work doesn't leave me, it keeps beckoning me to try. To tell the stories behind the thoughts, to acknowledge the people and conversations and moments that bring me there. To let the journey itself teach us all.

Joining Story and Wisdom: A New Genre

Phyllis and Allison, Horizon Perfekt Camera, Lomo 100 Chrome xpro film

Some in traditional media are still trying to separate stories from the insights or wisdom we gain from them, being careful to delineate clearly between the memoir and self-help sections of the bookstore. This is disappointing to me, though not completely surprising. Even the media train has a caboose.

The most exciting work I've encountered is pioneering a new genre that marries story, myth and poetry to the wisdom mined from them--David Whyte and Clarissa Pinkola Estes are two of my favorite examples. My own work, whether on stage, in a workshop or sound studio, is always an offering to contribute to this movement.

One of my core beliefs is that stories are a primary source of wisdom. Our stories provide context, and they establish credibility. Recently someone was telling me about a book she had read by Thomas Moore. She wanted to know how he arrived at his conclusions and ideas, what was happening in his life and what were his influences. She wanted him to show his work, to share the journey, and not just throw in some vague words in the afterword about something happening in his life at the time.

This is a growing frustration for audiences. "She kept referring to something she was struggling with, without ever saying what the struggle was," a friend said of another similar book. "It felt like she wasn't trusting us."

When I tell you my story alongside what I'm learning from and through it, it helps you understand that we are fellow travelers--that I am not a guru, nor have I "arrived" at any imaginary destination. It helps you understand that I say these things not from a place of ease and mastery, but from down in the trenches with the very same kinds of doubts and fears that you may also know well.

When I tell you my story, it shows you that this is a journey I am living, not just ideas I am espousing. I am my own most reluctant student--I can hardly bear to write many of these words because they are still so confronting to my past ways of thinking and being, the ones that like to still loiter around these parts. My own journey never ends.

When I tell you my story, you see what these ideas and moves look like, in the flesh and blood of a real life. It gives you an idea or an opening to consider how they might manifest or be applied in yours.

I can't teach that stories are a primary source of wisdom without sharing my own stories and insights, together. This is why I'm not interested in writing a straight-up memoir or a "self-help" book. When we force a separation between our stories and our wisdom, we demote our stories to entertainment and we strip all we've learned out of its context and away from its most powerful source of credibility or authority.

Sharing what we've learned inside the context of how we got there doesn't make our findings or realizations more true, it makes them true in a more complex way. With nuance and depth that is harder to argue with, and more difficult to dismiss, than a list of talking points.

A new genre is emerging--one that joins story and wisdom together--and it's happening inside a larger cultural conversation about where wisdom is really found. We are pioneers, and we are saying: you don't have to look to a panel of experts or an institution. I say, you don't have to look any further than your own story, which--with some awareness and attention--is the greatest teacher you will ever know.

Part story, part wisdom: Finding Your Voice is now available for a limited time.