“I process my pain alone; you process your pain with other people. We’re different,” he said. “I’m an introvert and you are an extrovert. You like to talk to other people. I don’t.”

He said it so plainly that I was a bit taken back. I had never distinguished our differences in precisely this way, but it was a fair point, and it got me thinking. It’s interesting, but many of us — even within the same family — have processing preferences.

Some of us process life within ourselves; some of us do so with others, out loud — mostly.

Is one way better?

I think not. We need both ways — musing and effusing — to see our lives clearly.

I’ve recently been thinking about the family I grew up in. On my own, I remember many defining moments, I have given them symbolic value, created a family narrative, told it to others. I have processed my life in public, and out loud. For me it is fun, helpful, meaningful.

When I tell about growing up I tell the chased-by-the-billy-goat story, the I-shot-my-brother story, the we-ate-Moosehead story, the very-tragic-baseball-game story, the newspaper-in-the-pants story, the my-brother-taught-me-to-hide-my-shirt-under-the-bed story, the we-were-so-poor-we-all-ate-one-Dilly-bar story.

I have written them, I have embellished them, they have become myth, they make people laugh. My mom has always said about me, “You were a funny boy.” I was. I have always survived, though story, and humor. I am a narrator.

In the mornings, I used to tell my family my dreams. They would laugh at me. “You can’t have dreamed all that.” The dreams were too elaborate, but the family was wrong. I did dream all that — and more. I held back, so as not to astonish them. I was Joseph — kind of, or not. Even my subconscious mind was in the business of embellishment. It still is. The truth is always better — out of the bag, and slightly expanded.

My brothers have different stories, different memories, they have crafted a different family narrative. Perhaps they are more private about it all. They are. It is almost as if we grew up in different families — and in a way we did. We matured in different seasons of family life. We had different experiences of our parents. We had different personalities. It helps me to hear their stories. They don’t subtract from my story; they add to it.

So when it comes to processing life, to processing our families I believe that we need both — privacy and publicity, our stories and theirs. It is very helpful to ask other family members what they remembered. It fills in some of the gaps. Memory is malleable. Memory is unreliable. We need the heuristic of the other. We keep rewriting the story. We all do, even if only in our own minds.

We need our own below-the-surface processing, our own underground burrowing, our own ratting and mousing about in our own shredded nests. We each need to validate our own hunt, chew on our own kill, commune at night with own tortured souls, craft our own family myths, elaborate our own familial veracities, embroider our own sun-and-moon-and-eleven-star dreams. This is how we discover who were really are and what we really feel.

But we also need the other’s stories, their perspectives, their memories. If we don’t get these we may remain stay stuck with an incomplete hagiography — or in iconoclasty.

I command thee, my gentle readers: Go process, alone, and together.

This creates agency.

This is how we thrive.

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