Dec. 4 2015

We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live

This is the opening to Joan Didion’s 1979 book of essays, The White Album.

Not only do we tell ourselves stories, but we shape our own narratives. What does this cup of coffee mean to me? What is the significance of this conversation in the story of my life? What semantics will I use?

Give yourself some credit and tell a good story. Your narrative is yours. Things are as important as the importance you ascribe to them.

Here’s Didion’s oft-cited quote in context:


“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.  The princess is caged in the consulate.  The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea.  The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor is a victim of accidie, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be ‘interesting’ to know which.  We tell ourselves that it makes some difference whether the naked woman is about to commit a mortal sin or is about to register a political protest or is about to be, the Aristophanic view, snatched back to the human condition by the fireman in priest’s clothing just visible in the window behind her, the one smiling at the telephoto lens.  We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five.  We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices.  We live entirely… by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria — which is our actual experience.”

-Joan Didion, The White Album, 1979.


This photo is from our hike to the Whitehorn Campground on Mt. Robson this summer.

Download the wallpaper here.