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To Be a Person Is to Have a Story to Tell*

April 18, 2010

I try to catch every sentence, every word you and I say, and quickly lock all these sentences and words away in my literary storehouse because they might come in handy.
• Anton Chekhov

I used to come across 3×5 cards with thoughts written on them and no attribution included. I’d wonder who said these things I’d recorded and feel sad because I couldn’t use them since I couldn’t credit their author. I realized as I looked over this collection of nameless cards I’d saved that I was the author. I began writing “me” on them so I’d know that I was capturing what I was thinking. I added the date each time as well.

I am a very careful recorder now. I view this carefulness as one of the greatest benefits of writing a dissertation. I used to be a somewhat careless collector of random thoughts and quotations—my own and those of other people—but I have realized how important it is to know when someone said something as well as to have a context for their remarks whenever possible.

On March 15 of this year, I copied these words from my mother who wrote this the week she was moving. I include it here because I don’t want to lose track of it. It reminds me of the commonality of the human experience and it’s important to me to know that she is not saying these things as a young woman, but as a woman of wisdom looking back on her life. I can learn from that.

Carol Daye’s journal:

I spent a big part of my life working hard to be the person people wanted me to be, to have the abilities they told me I would have if only I tried hard enough. No matter how hard I tried—and believe me, if anyone every gave it their all, I did—while I came to a level they had to accept, they were never really happy with it.

Later, life—by some miracle at short periods of time—put me in places where I could use the talents and abilities I was born with. The family I was born into and grew up with were never cheerleaders for me in meaningful ways, and I look back now and see how I took actions that took me away from my talents and back into those places where I was again trying to be who others thought I was meant to be.

This is meaningful to me because the life journey of authenticity—of truly living as the self you believe you were meant to be—is an ongoing challenge for many people. It’s a challenge when you’re in school. It’s a challenge at work. It’s a challenge with friends and family.

Maya Angelou said that “the greatest accomplishment is say it isn’t so. They say you are weak, say it isn’t so. They say you are. . . . .say it isn’t so.”

What are you? Who are you? Why are you?

What we must decide is perhaps how we are valuable, rather than how valuable we are.
• F. Scott Fitzgerald

* Thanks to Isak Dinesen for the title quotation.

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