I tell stories. I like doing it, and sometimes I do it well. I know what a story is; stories always have the same structure and pattern. Every story begins with a tension - usually the dis-ease caused by two seemingly irreconcilable opposites - and moves through time until the tension is resolved. Stories can be based in actual events or not as the case may be but all stories are fabrications. Think about it. Of all the hundreds of incidents that occur in the course of any given day, why do you tell some as stories of the day, and let the rest slip into oblivion? The fact that you are telling a story at all means that you have made a choice of one incident over a range of other possible ones. And then, as you tell the incident you won't tell every detail. You will select and choose, highlight some details and downplay others. Your story will be told in such a way as to bring about some purpose: to arouse interest, get a laugh, illustrate a point, evoke sympathy... whatever. In other words, all stories, even the most "factual" and "true" involve the selection and omission of details, and the ordering of those details into a pattern. All stories are fabrications. The way we select and fabricate our stories tells us an awful lot about ourselves because the pattern is an imposition of our own devising and will reflect who and what we are.
One of our fabricated stories is our own autobiography. I had an illustration of this once. On my first trip the USA I had occasion to drive several different cars. When I got back to New Zealand, I noticed that in my memory of those events, I was seated on the right hand side of the car, and driving the car on the left hand side of the road. My memory was obviously in error: I had, unconsciously, changed the memory of driving in the USA to fit with the realities of driving cars in New Zealand. I think we do this unconsciously, in a thousand subtle or gross ways, with all our memories, and with all the stories we tell about ourselves. The way we see ourselves, the things we choose to remember or forget, the things we highlight and downplay are a fabrication: a kind of fiction.
For instance, the picture above was taken by my daughter Catherine and heavily edited by me. I like it because I think it says something about me. But it isn't real. It's a fabrication, a picture which talks not about how I am seen but how I would like to be seen. In a similar way, out of the myriad events that have happened to us, we invent our past select and polish it and give it meaning. Or, to put it more starkly, we invent ourselves and give ourselves meaning - and in more matters than just our life story.
Think of a computer. It is not so much one appliance as a whole suite of appliances. They may all be hidden away in one tin box, but there are disk drives and disk drive controllers, video cards, sound cards, logic units and buses and dozens of others, all of them discrete individual components, plugged together by bits of cable or by solder to give the illusion of one working unit (and in my computer at the moment the illusion is pretty tenuous. Ho hum). A similar thing happens inside our heads. Our brains are not so much a wonderful biological instrument as a whole suite of wonderful biological instruments. Our brain is a system of systems: several hundred complex systems working together closely enough to give the illusion of one working system. There is not one of all those systems that is the place where me and my personality reside. Not one place in the brain, not one system is "me". Rather, me, my personality is a sort of a story: a pattern imposed on all that information and processing. I am a fiction, a story made up by selecting some bits of information and discarding others; by highlighting and downplaying; by ordering and reshaping; by recognising and ignoring. There is a sense in which all this shaping is done by me, the thing that is being shaped (and there's a concept to tie your cerebral processes in a knot) but I don't consciously do that shaping, at least most of the time.
So where does this pattern come from? Good question, that. I think it arises socially: it comes from our life in community, but I'll talk about that some other time.