“Your One Wild and Precious Life”

What is the story you tell yourself about your life? And how has that been working out for you?

That’s what Steven Pressfield writes about in his recent blog post, “Stories We Tell Ourselves.” In this post, Pressfield quotes his friend Shawn: “‘We all have stories that we tell ourselves about what our lives are—and those stories are always wrong.'” This wrong story, he calls Story A. At some point in our lives, if you and I are to escape embitterment and live free our uniquely beautiful lives, we will recognize Story A for what it is, reject it, and embrace Story B – the real story that has always been there, that we could actually grow into something amazing if we would work with it instead of against it.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” asks Mary Oliver in her poem, “The Summer Day.”

Here’s an exercise worthy of your time and attention – read Steven Pressfield’s post, and then contemplate – write it out, talk it out, walk it out, otherwise work it out – what is the Story A and Story B in your life? You could think further about how you will reject Story A and embrace Story B, but my guess is, if you’ve accurately identified these two stories, that may be all you need to accelerate the true story of your life.


  1. This post is so timely, for a couple of reasons. First, while I have some sort of inner monologue that repeats (incessantly and with a great deal of supporting evidence) that I haven’t done very well in life, it has never occurred to me to understand this monologue as being “Story A,” and that this “Story A” may be understood to be wrong. Inner monologue has been louder and nastier than normal this week, it usually is when I work nights. So I am grateful for this perspective.

    I read Mr. Pressfield’s post, it made me think about other movies and books that have this “Story B” hook. It also made me think of times when “Story B” is approached, but then tragically retreated from, due to things like fear, or even simple momentum. I thought of that great scene in “Remains of the Day,” when Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson are a book’s width away from intimacy, and all Hopkins has to do is declare himself, to just kiss her, but he doesn’t (fear/momentum) and thus cuts himself off forever from love and a “Story B.” For me, love is inextricably tied to loss and heartbreak, I simply can’t conceive of it any other way. I tear up just thinking of that scene, but then it seems I live my life on the edge of tears.

    I will take up your fine assignment, to “work out” the second story of my life.

    Oh yeah, the other reason this post was timely was your mention of Oliver, serendipitous because I had brought “New and Selected Poems vol 2” to work with me this week. Oliver has long been a sort of “mother” to me, I always feel like I have things in better perspective after reading her. She makes me consider the squirrels in my poor yard, and feel happy that they are here, and that I am here to watch them.

  2. Julia, I’ve been thinking about the Story A and Story B thing, but this is something that’s best left to brew. Maybe I’ll have more to say about that after I’ve given it more thought.

    But…you’ve mentioned one of my favorites of Mary Oliver’s poems! I memorized it last year, though I discovered today that somehow I’ve been leaving out two of the lines (“Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face./Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.). I wanted to share one thing, and I hope this will work. Two Februarys ago, I flew out to Seattle to hear MO read her poems; it was like traveling to Mecca. As she read, I snapped audio of some of my favorite poems. The quality is bad, but it gives the general idea. I love her voice.

    I use Evernote to organize the things that catch my attention, so after I returned from Seattle I put the audio clip in there along with the text of the poem. A couple months ago, I found another of her poems that seems to answer the questions of “The Summer Day.” Another kind of Story A and Story B.

    The link to my Evernote note:

    (this is the part that I hope will work)

    • I loved this: “I know people who want to honor the religious quest but not the unsolicited professionalism of the pulpit. They’d rather read poetry.”

      Tonight I went to hear Todd Boss at our local library. Before he spoke, the local poets’ group shared some of their poems, and Todd said that hearing someone share their poetry is sort of like listening to them praying.

  3. Forgive me, I’m becoming logorrheic all over your blog…

    I sat down and thought about Stories A and B this morning. It took me so long because there ended up being a lot of fear in facing that question for a couple of reasons:

    1. As soon as I identify Story B it will it become Story A?
    2. What if I hate Story B?

    Mostly that second question terrifies me.

    • Nothing to forgive – thanks for engaging!

      Question 1 – I wonder that too! In that, what you think you are identifying as Story B may not really be “the true story of your life,” just another scenario you think might work. Maybe for many of us, life is a series of story ideas we try on, all the while our real story is flowing underneath it all.

      Question 2 – I think Story B (the real one) can’t feel like something I’m settling for, even if it would look like that to an outside observer. It’s got to feel like a Eureka! moment. Or at least, like sliding into something more comfortable, more my(best)self. If I hate it, can it possibly be true or right? I don’t know but I hope not.

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