There are many ways of documenting our lives, for example, diaries and planners, scrap books, photo albums and journals. The next and vital step is to reflect on our lives using tools such as life review and Ira Progoff’s Intensive Journal Process which I have used off and on for 40 years.
Another approach is to see one’s life as a novel. I first learned about this in Erving Polster’s wonderful book, Every Person’s Life is Worth a Novel. One line on page 3 says it all:
“No one can escape being interesting.”
What is a novel exactly? According to R. E. Vance “A novel is a work of fiction told through narrative prose focusing on characters and a plot with at least some degree of realism.” Essentially, a novel is a long story in which a message, theme, and plot are revealed slowly over the course of scenes and chapters that make up a bigger storyline.(1) The main elements are plot, theme, setting, conflict and stakes, characters, and point of view. Sounds to me like real life!
What would it be like to study one’s life to discover these elements as if one were studying, say, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code? Plots and sub-plots? Conflicts and stakes? Characters?
“In a wonderful essay called “On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual,” Schopenhauer points out that, once you have reached an advanced age, as I have, as you look back over your life, it can seem to have had a plot, as though composed by a novelist. Events that seemed entirely accidental and incidental turn out to have been central to the composition.” ~Joseph Campbell. Pathways to Bliss (p. 112)
“Our lives (are) like richly ambiguous texts to be interpreted and understood…whose meanings are inexhaustible, whose mysterious existence ceaselessly calls forth the desire to know, whose readings cannot ever yield a final closure.” ~Mark P. Freeman PhD