Photo: Anne Lawrence, Souvenirs, 2021

I counted every job I’ve had, starting with babysitting at 13. Every side gig, every part-time job, every title or role change within an institution. That’s 54 first-days — I could cover one a week for just over a year. I’ve been dismissed in a letter, threatened by a fellow employee not to come back, had my position eliminated, and watched my non-profit gallery close. The others, I walked away for some reason or another, usually a better offer. I wrote it out in the early fall, after a difficult summer. It is Vonnegut’s Man in a Hole story over and over.

If you accept as truth that there are only about 6 different story patterns, then all stories sort neatly. Man in a Hole, a fall and rise, Icarus, a rise and fall, and Cinderella, a rise and fall and rise, are the most popular. Repeating patterns of Man in a Hole are common too; think of the hero’s journey. We all cast ourselves as the hero of our stories. We all expect to rise again after we fall. Some of us just have to do it more often.

As the protagonists of our stories, we don’t know what happens next, who the villain really is, what motivated or antagonized the other players, or when the sudden reversal and plot twists will kick-in. We don’t see the arc of the story until later. Why did I end up in Oklahoma?

We search for patterns even more fervently than we scavenge for stories. I can follow the lines and see where the paths diverged. I listen for the rhyme and the rhythm, the foreshadowing, and the echoes. How can I make sense of what is happening to me, what role I played, what factors lead to this decision and not that one? So many stories to tell.

Writer, researcher, observer