The stories we tell other people about themselves

I recently registered for my first convention since 2012 (shout out to NFTY which kept me going to conferences five times a year for four years). The same people who make VidCon have created NerdCon: Stories, and I couldn’t possibly be more excited.

Since I registered, all I’ve been able to think about are why stories shape us, how they shape us, and where they come from—mostly the latter.

Over the past year, I’ve made a conscious effort to change the stories that defined who I am and who I am becoming. Some of my ambitions garner eye rolls or evident skepticism.

I’m passionate about many different topics, ideas, and art forms. Sometimes I get excited about something for a week and then the next, I lose interest—but I almost always return.

Whenever I invite someone over to my apartment, I always make sure I hide my ukulele. Right after I purchased it, some of my friends and acquaintances rolled their eyes. They told me I’d never play it, it was a waste of money, and it was so typically hipster. This was the same reaction pretty much everyone had when they saw it in my room.

No matter the fact that I know where ukuleles come from, or that I know their cultural importance. I was constantly embarrassed by my new instrument’s presence; so, to this day, I hide it. It sits in my closet—barely touched.

I bought it wanting to make music. I bought it because I was sad and it was something that might make me happy.

But my peers were telling me a story: the story of how they saw me. They saw me as someone couldn’t have the emotional or intellectual depth it would take to actually understand—or care to understand—another culture enough to partake in it. I’m not trying to say I am an expert on Hawaiian culture, but I knew about an instrument that some of my friends had fun with and that gave me access to a culture I didn’t know much about. As I researched what kind of ukulele I would want, I was learning.

Over the past few years, ukuleles have become popular amongst my age group—possibly because they are pretty easy to figure out. For someone who wants to make music and doesn’t have the funds or space to ship her piano from Kansas City to Boston, this seemed like a good, much cheaper alternative.

And I was right, but I let my peers tell my story. Today, I’m recommitting myself to the story I was creating; one in which I experience music by making it. I will keep writing my story about music as a way to process my life and as a tool to understand my experiences. Others will no longer write my story.

The above story is not about naming names, or making people feel bad. It’s about figuring out how we, and I, define other people by stories we create around them. When we make a conscious effort to recognize these assumptions, whether intentional or not, it allows other people to flourish, and define themselves as we each have the right to do.

Up until October, and probably continuing after, I will be posting more about stories, how they shape us, and how we create stories that shape others. If you’re interested in learning more about NerdCon: Stories, click here. If you want to go, act fast!

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