Solipsistic Storytelling: A Mini-Manifesto
When I first started this newest version of Parentheticals, I called myself a “Transmedia Storyteller”. I was in love with the newly-discovered word “transmedia”, because it seemed to fit well with my desire to not be pinned down to any one storytelling form or place. After all, I reasoned, look at all the places I’d been using my storytelling superpowers over the years: elaborate pass-back-and-forth notes to friends, formal fiction writing, fan fiction, ‘zines, academic papers and theses, teaching, survival guides, blogs, web copywriting...and that’s just the textual stuff (I might also include photography, video, painting, scrapbooking, etc). But recently the term “transmedia” has come to stand in for a whole new art form (or some would say, marketing toolbox), and there have been a multitude of opinions as to what constitutes “real” transmedia and what is just the latest marketing buzzword, and all of a sudden the term doesn’t seem so fun to play with anymore, and the risk of being misunderstood greater.
So I have been thinking about what new term I could use to replace “transmedia”. (I’m sure there are plenty; in fact I reserve the right to change it every couple weeks or at least as often as the mood strikes me.) The one that appealed to me first was “solipsistic”. Officially, solipsistic means “the view or theory that self is the only object of real knowledge or the only thing that is real,” but it also has connotations of selfishness or “extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one's feelings, desires, etc.; egoistic self-absorption.” I’m fond of alliteration, so that may be why it popped up in the first place, but I also do relate to the connotations of navel-gazing (isn’t that basically what a personal blog is?). I flinch at the “extreme” part of “extreme preoccupation”, but honestly, part of my personal journey has been realizing that I actually need to spend just as much if not more time looking in and at myself (and learning from that), as I do looking out and at others (not to mention at groups and systems). That’s been kind of a radical realization for me. Look at myself? Talk about myself? How assumptive! How selfish!
It’s hard to overcome the fear of being called “selfish”. As a woman, as an often outwardly-focused extrovert, as a Jew, as a mom, as someone raised with positive ideals of charity and service to others, and especially as someone who spent a whole lot of time in higher academia (and after) being mentally and emotionally whacked around by realizations of my own privilege(s), it’s risky to declare “no, hold on, I want to be selfish for awhile, and value my own story and life experience as having something to teach me, and possibly even others.”
But I know there are many truths and epiphanies to be mined from my own experience, and I have to believe that my own experience and life is just as valuable and valid as anyone else’s. Like it or not, the truth is that when I look at it clearly, drawing from my own specific, unique story is at the heart of most every kind of good storytelling I have ever done--and isn’t it at the heart of all storytelling?
One of the big life-lessons I’m in the process of learning (over and over) is that one’s own experience, one’s own story, *is* what is real. It’s all that is real. It’s all that we have; contained within it is all that we need. Life is story; life is art--and each of us an artist. And the more each of us can stand clearly and firmly in the center of our own real and unique stories and own them--with curiosity and compassion, but without judgment or expectations--the more powerful we are, and the more we are each able to appreciate and respect other people’s uniqueness. And once we get there, to that clear, stable, solid centered place, why then, then we can bring our beautifully varied and flavored uniquenesses together into kickass, creative, collaborative, solve-all-the-world’s-problems kind of teams. We are all different (yes, I get reminded of _Life of Brian_ whenever I say that), and we all have something specific and unique that we are able--some might even say required--to contribute to a bigger perspective. If we can’t know the individual parts, how can we ever know the whole? And knowing the whole is a good goal, in my opinion.
I think, therefore, that I will reclaim the term “solipsistic”, rescue it from its faintly negative whiff of selfishness (and what’s so wrong about selfishness, anyway? Like everything else, it surely has its light as well as dark sides--I’ll be championing the light side, of course). I will be assumptive. I will assume that solipsism is a good thing, and that who I am and what I have experienced is important and worth sharing. I will couple positive selfishness with empathy and desire for connection, and see where that gets me. Hopefully it’ll get me to one of those kickass collaborative teams at some point...but first up: “know thyself”. Solipsism rules.