We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

November 10, 2021

I’m sitting alone in a Paris literary café, walls lined with books launched there by famous authors and actually read by the patrons. I’m surrounded by stories. Those on the walls and those of the strangers eating at the tables around me.

I’m not eavesdropping on their conversations. I’m imagining what their stories could be, connecting with them in my mind. That group of women at the corner table: what is the relationship between them? Is this a reunion of old friends; they seem relaxed. But do I detect an awkwardness as one turns away with an expression of distaste, gazing instead at the tree hung with books in the busy square outside?

When alone do we all make up stories about the strangers around us? Who is that stooped, greying man across from us in the metro carriage? What is he reading? That will give us a clue. And so, we seek to engage with and make sense of our surroundings.

Is that what Joan Didion meant when she said, ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live’?

That instinctive search for human connection?

Or was she perhaps talking more generally about the creative process; writers, artists making meaning and in so doing telling us a story. In order to make a living.