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“The joyfulness of infinite play, its laughter, lies in learning to start something we cannot finish.”
James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games

My life seems constructed from quotes by others. It’s not that I pattern myself after them; rather they seem to resonate with patterns already set in me. They come after the fact, not before, having articulated something I might have got around to. Nah, who am I kidding.

At the University of Delaware during the 1993-1994 academic year, I enrolled in a spring semester seminar titled “American History after 1850”. [Want to guess the seminar I took in the fall?] Dr Carol Hoffecker directed four of us, more or less independently, guiding the selection of a topic and reviewing progress at several intermediate points. Between terms I had asked that several files be shipped from home; two banker’s boxes of research on the Episcopal churches of Dakota Territory that I’d gathered during the previous twenty years — yes, twenty years; I have a long attention span.

What began as a more or less traditional architectural historical narrative had morphed into a collection of biographies (as I explained to Dr Hoffecker during our first meeting) of the various people associated with the design, construction, and use of the churches. I had grouped them into four categories linked with those roles: “Bishops and Pawns” treated clergy; “Sticks and Stones” told of architects and builders; and “xxx” grouped the many laypeople associated with parish life. Because the British had played such a disproportionate part in territorial affairs, there was a special section called “The Land and Its Gentry”. At some point during this introduction, Dr Hoffecker interrupted to tell me I was engaged in the historical method called “prosopography”.

Prosopography, “a study that identifies and relates a group of persons or characters within a particular historical or literary context”,  was by that time out of fashion among scholars. But the moment for me was special because she had given a name to something that simply seemed to proper way to proceed. I was doing something before it was a thing.

studies personality and how people change over time. His narrative approach to studying human lives places stories and storytelling at the center of human personality.

For more than two decades, McAdams and his students have been coding life-story interviews, looking for themes of one particular life story — redemption. Their published work shows that people who tell their life story in redemptive terms — such as overcoming suffering or adversity — enjoy better mental health and higher levels of happiness, compared to people whose life stories show fewer themes of redemption.

Moreover, researchers have found strong associations between redemptive life stories and an adult’s concern about the well-being of future generations, something that comes into sharper focus as people age.

“The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end, that’s all there is.”
Carson, the butler, “Downton Abbey”

“If we cannot tell a story about what happened to us, nothing has happened to us”
James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games

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