Undertsory vs BackstoryOne of the generic cereals that W loves comes with a book inside from the Discovery Network. Last month he was thrilled to find a book about dolphins and yesterday a book about the rainforest tumbled out into his breakfast bowl. He asked for me to read it to him while he munched on his beige O’s and skim milk and since I am never one to turn down a new book I happily obliged.

When I got to the page with a drawing of the layers of the rainforest I paused.


Within the context of the rainforest the understory is the vegetative layer, the shrubs, if you will. But something about that terminology feels so much more appropriate for people and our collective stories that we carry along with us.

So often we refer to these stories as backstories. When I was an acting student I was taught that every single action a character had should be based on a backstory. Everything. How a character lifted her teacup to how she answered the door to how she hugged her children was all because of things the audience may never see or know, but the actor needed to know why to make the character come alive.

Understory feels like a story that is still simmering within me. Backstory feels like a story that happened to me, but may not be something I am always thinking about.

For example: My Mother deciding to go to law school when I was in the 2nd grade is part of my backstory. In a sense it has shaped and defined who I am, but it is not something that I think of or emotionally reference often.

Tartan’s due date would have been in exactly two weeks. This is my understory. It is not something obvious to anyone, it is not something I talk about, but it very much influences how I react to pretty much everything right now.

I wish there was a way we could hone in on each other’s understories immediately without really needing to talk. I imagine, for many of us, words are not possible. Guttural sounds may be the only way to express the true colors of the vegetation. I realized long ago that everyone on the planet has STUFF going on. Even the people who look so perfectly put together. There is no delight in knowing we all share sadness, but there is comfort in the unity.

Stories have many layers with many characters and twists and turns. Trust me, Tartan is not the only understory in my life right now.

If you shared your understory with me, with someone, what would it look it? Is it overgrowing and dark and mossy? Is it vibrant and loud with life?

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