Systems & Stories Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

Someone recently asked me whether I tend to think in terms of systems or stories. I thought about it for a brief moment before responding, “both.”

My blog’s tagline is “sustainable systems & storytelling,” while that of my previous blog was “the subjective perspective of an analytical optimist.” If my ten-year-old self had a blog, it’s tagline might have been “STEM experiments and short stories.”

The marriage of opposites, the birth of new possibilities.

As a child, I split my time between building complex structures and building fantasy worlds. The right hemisphere of my brain guided me through the crafting of finger paint flowers, home-brewed fables and mismatched outfits, while the left hemisphere constructed foam tube roller coasters, 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzles and structurally-sound CAD bridges.

There was delicate balance, a playful blending: within the constrictions of nature’s law, my imagination ran free.

I break things down and put them back together. I always have. And I suspect I always will.

Over three decades, I’ve developed the propensity to eagerly disassemble puzzles, computers, toys and plot lines and, with utmost focus, analyze the form and function of each component.

What are you made of? How do you work? What might happen if I positioned Part A next to Part K?

Recently, I’ve been thinking more about how each of us develops our own set of interests across the course of our lives. We don’t just show up and order the sandwich. We order half of a BLT sandwich, a bowl of tomato soup and a chocolate chip cookie. Everyone’s order is a little different and, while I wouldn’t advise blending up the aforementioned meal, each of us has the ability to stack our dissimilar skills in novel ways.

A doctor with a passion for education can travel the world to give lectures on cutting-edge medicine. A mortician who dreams of writing might draft up a novel incorporating her knowledge into the plot. A yoga teacher who lives on a farm may invite people to stretch as goats hop atop their backs.

The world has shown us time and time again, nothing is too absurd. You’ve just got to choose your niche and commit.

Each of us is actively weaving the web our lives from seemingly invisible threads. We take action daily in one direction or another, forging connections between disparate ideas, individuals and places. We stitch together a reality that is visible only when we are fully aware to it, visible only when we cock our head just right and catch its glimmer in the morning light.

When we take a step back and observe our lives, it becomes increasingly evident that our days are composed of repeated patterns. We slowly circle outward, entwining each tiny string with the next. Sometimes, our habits are intentional and structured, resulting is a perfectly predicable final outcome. Other times, random or experimental actions skew the trajectory of our lives in unexpected ways. And, perhaps, that scenic detour is okay. Have you every stopped to observe a triangular spider webs sprawling across an urban landscape and thought, “hmm, that’s interesting?”

When I look back on my own life, I want to admire the bizarre shape of it. I long to taste the salty sweetness of  two opposites joined together, like a chocolate-covered potato chip, to create something new–and perhaps even better. I want to recognize the traits, the interests and the skills that set me apart from those born hours and decades apart from me. Most of all, I want to see the snags in the embroidery of my life, the messy evidence that I took the risk of dipping the chocolate chip cookie into the tomato soup–that I learned to embrace who I am and discover how I can offer my unique gift, whatever that may be, back to the world.

For me, I think that will involve rigid systems, structures or processes being brought into contact with thoughtful design, novel approaches or a meaningful story. I know don’t know how it may unfold, and I don’t know exactly what may manifest, but I’m open to it.

How about you? What seemingly opposite skills or interests do you have, and what might you do to bring them together in a way that no one else could? I’d love to hear!

8 thoughts on “Systems & Stories Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

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  1. Oh, lots 🙂 I work in the IT-world now doing webstuff but in my sparetime I write short stories. Long ago, though, I envisioned that all my short stories would be linked and refer to the same person’s life, or persons around her. So in principle you could read any one of them individually or you could dive in and do it chronologically or maybe take a year or two of our main characters’ lives and concentrate on that. So I build a website around that vision almost 10 years ago and have added a little bit to it each year. That kind of storytelling you can’t really do in the traditional formats, p-books and e-books, especially with all the hyperlinking in each story to other stories, and the occasional photo, artwork or music piece insert. When I have some surplus I’d like to do p-book collections, though, of the best short stories and then the ones online can serve as a kind of advertisement for those books, or vice-versa. Anyway, the point is that without my IT-work and ‘way of thinking’ I guess I might never have thought about doing fiction in this way.

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    1. That is such an awesome idea and, I imagine, a welcomed concept as society moves ever-more-rapidly in the direction of technology. As much as I love a good hard cover book, the thought of a multi-sensational experiencing with words, images, music and more is pretty exciting. I say, when time and resources allow, go for it! Thanks for sharing! I find it fascinating how different people are, yet how we all hold this propensity to dream new dreams and create new things. 🙂

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      1. The funny thing is that I was actually inspired by an idea from 20-ish years ago about making “hypertext” stories that had lots of links to each other, and – in some cases – optional outcomes. That kind of storytelling, along with blog fiction, quickly vanished into an atomically small niche as fiction went the way of the Blade Runner-flying car: The tech is there but cultural and economic factors killed it for now. Ebooks became the new norm 10 years later with the Kindle and they are for all intents and purposes just paperbooks without the paper. I believe that there are experiments with storytelling form, including more use of images, videos etc. in niche fiction on the net, like fan fiction or roleplaying fiction but otherwise no. Otherwise such ‘revolutionary’ ways of communicating (text, images, video, other effects in one) are the domain of non-fiction websites almost exclusively – still. It’s very interesting why it all turned out this way, but also a big digression. So I’ll stop now, he. And thanks for the encouragement! 🙂

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    1. Thanks for sharing! I would encourage you to keep thinking about that in the back of your mind… it’s a neat exercise to figure out what unique gifts you have to offer the world. 🙂

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  2. Beautifully woven piece. In your writing, I see the balance you describe of your two hemispheres. Structured, yet woven, connected, linked, and flowing. I love the idea of blending unique talents. I am a teacher, but I’m also interested in biohacking, nutrition, and healing. Sometimes it’s frustrating when teachers aren’t supposed to blend those areas in their teaching. That is where the challenge lies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing, Sonya! Have you considered creating a course for adults on nutrition and healing–as a teacher, I’m sure your adept at conveying information and actionable takeaways, and I know it’s an area many people are interested. On the other hand, I bet your blog is a great way to scratch that itch and help others in the process. 🙂

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