April 25: your identifying story

My friend Emma was telling me about someone she used to know who told her this story: that when he was a student he was annoyed about the waste of paper, so he went to some committee or other and suggested some solution or other and lo and behold a few weeks later he saw that his suggestions had been implemented. This taught him that by going through the right channels you could get things done. The person in question is now making his way in politics. Emma told me that on three seperate occasions she heard this guy tell this story to different people. It was, she said, his identifying story.
Which made me think. Perhaps we all have an identifying story. It would be the one we churn out on a first date. The story that best defines us, or, at least, the one that, in our own mind, set us on a certain trajectory. Boring people tend to have a very clear idea about what their identifying story is because their knowledge of themselves is dead knowledge. And then, of course, people who are forever defining themselves are the dullest people. They say things like ‘I’m not the kind of person who stands for that kind of thing…’ and ‘I have my own way of doing things…’ Borish stuff.
We can all remember trying not to betray to an interlocutor that we have already heard a story they are recounting and us having to self-consciously post up an interested mien, and, worryingly, also when telling a story that moment when we suddenly realise we’ve already told that story before, and to the same person who is staring at us looking for all the world as if they are interested.

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