Review: Kenyon & Randall’s Restorying our lives: personal growth through autobiographical reflection   Leave a comment

book2No one but ourselves can tell us who we are,

or who we can become…

The onus is on us…

~ Kenyon & Randall

            The metaphor for life equals the story metaphor which equals self-reflection which equals self-change and transformational learning. Story means that someone is telling someone about somebody doing something which involves fact and fiction (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 65). Life as story or the story metaphor is an ontological metaphor that has the potential for positive change. Kenyon & Randall (1997), reported, “…for finding meaning in life, through storytelling and, equally important, storylistening (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 29), and demonstrates the need for a continuous return to the voice of the other (p. 12). Kenyon & Randall in 1997 wrote a book called, Restorying our lives: personal growth through autobiographical reflection in which the authors stated, “To be a person is to have a story” (p. 1) and continued, “Not only do we have a lifestory, but we are stories” implying that our very experience can be characterized from a story perspective” (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 15). It is through our narratives that we begin to make meaning of our lives according to Brunner (1986), “…centering on narrative knowing as the fundamental way in which we make sense of our lives in time, of the relationships between events, and of the links between intentions and actions, causes and effects (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 4). It is our stories that are the foundation of our identity and emotions stemming from the narrative roots as our emotions themselves have narrative roots connecting to our re-flections on the past that will stimulate specific feelings within us. They are also our pro-reflections on the future and how we experience time on the inside of our lives and of the difference between story-time and clock time (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 44). Stories combine our ideas and actions through the stages of restorying (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 79). The authors explained restorying as, the literary process of re-composing the stories we have “made up” about who we are, where we have come from, and where we are headed incorporating the past, present and future that reflects our inner and outer time perspectives (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 1).

            Our existence is based on the concept of chronological time. This includes our clocks, calendars and social clocks which is considered outer time-aging which leads to telos. Whereas, inner time-aging as Beauvoir (1973) noted, “Our private inward experience does not tell us the number of our years; no fresh perception comes into being to show us the decline of age” (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 20). While our story unfolds our phases of maturity include living with the past, present and future yet, with a focus on biological aging. Maturity does not guarantee a story as not all are willing to tell their uncompleted story (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p.20) Also the authors commented, “…if there is one to tell (p. 154). Kenyon & Randall (1997) went on to state, “…we can also leave our inside story untold on the level of inside-out because of our need to edit (p.51). In regards to stories being used in a geriatric assessment the context and themes needs to read between the lines and go beyond their story as their emotions and truth are related to the context.

            According to Mader (1995), the dimensions of lifestories can be seen as themes that influence each other and how they make up the stories of who we are for example, death, body, money, aging, etc. (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 119). These themes range from the structural story of social policy and power to the social story of social meanings associated with storytelling, the interpersonal story which includes relationships of intimacy, and last personal story referring to creation and discovery (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 16). The story metaphor is associated with the approach of restorying as it used as a strategy of guided autobiography. There are three aspects involved including educational, spiritual, and existential that incorporates elemental themes such as, the written element, the element of personal reflection, social communication, and the metaphorical element discovery (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 118). This helps the older generation trace certain themes which have occurred through their lives while noting that there are gender differences which Tannen (1990) described as, “…how people remember, how they talk about themselves and listen to others (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 8).

            Prado (1986) suggested as we grow older and go through the stages of restorying we find particular narratives or signature stories to be effective as we go about our lives as they can be viewed as parables that reveal much about how we see ourselves in the midst of our lives, of other’s lives, and of our ultimate environment (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 26, 132). Different forms of therapy are addressed by Burnside (1996) who stated, frail older persons should also be eligible for various forms of therapy including life-review and reminiscence (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 147). In reviewing the connection of maturity and lifestory it becomes clear that we follow the stages of restorying. The authors clarified, “Therapy-type approaches, including psychoanalysis, life-review, social work, and family therapy are designed to assist people in resolving neuroses, psychoses, and other specific conflicts (p. 150). The story metaphor is also linked to the therapeutic processing concepts such as narrative environment in which Nussbaum (1989) described, “…by which we are shaped, we learn these story-lines-we learn our emotions-in the same way that we learn our beliefs-from our society…They are taught above all, through stories (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 58).

            There are three corresponding stages of restorying, telling, reading, and retelling. The first is the telling phase in which we are listeners connecting, influencing, informing and getting close to others. This includes intentionally telling of ourselves to people and through autobiography as in a journal. In telling or de-storying the same elements are used in story as in themes, character, plot, and setting. As society shifts from a predominately psychodynamic model of human nature to a more therapoetic one (therapy for the sane) it incorporates implications of its entailments for instance, high plots, low plots, the need for conflicts that in turn, are central story-lines as individuals act and perform their lives in a storied manner. Ricoeur (1980) detailed what plot means, “…makes events into story” beginning with selection, direction and coherence as it creates shape to the story, the structure, morality and meaning (as cited in Kenyon & Randall , 1997, para p. 66). Reading happens when we are the authors and considered authoring when one steps back from the text of their lives as they begin to lay out and critique…” (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 129). In this stage there are six types of readers noted for restorying, point-driven, information-driven, story-driven, atmosphere-driven, character-driven, and meaning-driven. As the authors stated, “…different people, with varying stories, tend to read their lifestories for particular reasons (p. 130). Retelling is reforming, time consuming, and needs consideration of language, requires sensitivity of interpretations to others and environments, and has the possibility to change narrative environments or re-contextualizing our lives …” (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 135).

            In addition, as we story and re-story our lives to understand who we are and where we are going, we utilize three terms of the story as Schank (1990) noted, “…knowledge is experiences and stories intelligence is the apt use of experience and the creation and telling of stories, and memory being the process of creation, storage, and retrieval which when integrated creates our identity seen as a continuous story metaphor (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 3). We experience, we learn, we gain knowledge as the story incorporates I and we as people are constantly learning from and being influenced by the physical and human environment in which they find themselves located” (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p.17). Hence, the novelty of our life is as Buber & Moustaks (1967), “Every person born into this world, represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p54).

            There is something illogical yet unique regarding the role that “I” plays in creating a personal story and being meaningful in a “we” situation involving others (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 24). From this perspective, our stories are made up of two elements, the facility and the larger story, that of the cultures of embeddedness. Also included is the issue of lifestory is the process of spirituality and that people live stories with acceptance and meaning. For example, there are interpersonal, couple, family, community, class, national, generation, gender, social, political and structural stories we live in with the possibility of meaningful choices or new meanings (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 24, 85). The authors commented, “…we are concerned with the ways in which it may be possible to transcend our facility and expand our sense of possibility” (p. 25). The question then becomes, how then do we engage in the story metaphor?

            The metaphor is referred to as philosophical hermeneutics as Gadamer (1976) revealed, “…which is the process of recovering the meaning in something we have come to take for granted” (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 11). One of the issues touched upon in the literature had been the central element of personal storytelling, the metaphorical or storied perspective of the complex hermeneutic circle. As Kenyon & Randall (1997) noted, “…like a chain: a different lifestory issues in different emotions, which lead to different actions, relationships, and commitments (para. p. 142). In our stories there is no such thing as the truth or the true story, apart from a particular context or biographical encounter (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 12). Furthermore, the authors commented, “”…our stories are never true, as in accurate or clear, but multilayered and susceptible to several versions” (p. 137). Additionally, our language is metaphorically based, and thus the notion of truth or authenticity is situational or relative to a context (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 24).

            Moreover, the lifestory metaphor is considered coauthoring which incorporates storylistening but not in regards to parents as one would live by their truths or spouses as they would be an author over us and more like characters in each other’s lives. It integrates biographical coaching and emplotment which is part of our response to the autobiographical imperative as it occurs both at the pre- or quasi-narrative level. This is called the narrative quality of experience at the surface or public level (Crites, 1971as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p.68). It also incorporates larger stories and narrative truth. Nussbaum (1989) discussed, “…when we consider the narrative environments by which we are shaped, we learn these story-lines-we learn our emotions-in the same way that we learn our beliefs-from our society…they are taught, above all, through stories” (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 58). It was Kenyon & Randall (1997) that stated, “…when properly implemented biographical approaches can help a person to realize a basic acceptance of his or her life and thereby improve his or her quality of life” (p. 157). Furthermore, when combined, they help in understanding the philosophical hermeneutics and ethical issues regarding how we storylisten and storytell. According to Gubrium (1993), “…since there is a distinctively existential-spiritual dimension to the stories we are and to storylistening, all members of the encounter can be deeply changed cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 159).

            There are significant traits that lead to the existential-spiritual dimension as we are social stories influenced by interpersonal, structural and social dimensions. The authors described these aspects as first being transparency meaning from a particular view such as protagonist, author, reader, coauthor, listener, narrator (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 120). Our lifestory consists of ourselves simultaneously as a reader, author, protagonist, and narrator. (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 129). Next is completeness as our stories are never complete and we never arrive at the final truth, followed by coherence referring to the different hats we wear and the different stories that make up one’s life such as, interpersonal, economic, ethnic stories. Last, is adequacy as we create meaning in a particular situation, a situation that is already larger than we individuals (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 21-23). This becomes the metaphor of the journey.

            Along our metaphoric journey there are three ethical issues and biographical encounter strategies which are pertinent to storylistening. First there is informed consent or negotiated consent involving trust, rights to privacy and reflection based on the ongoing process from the beginning to the completion of a biographical encounter (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 144). Then there is consent and competence when people have a right to have someone listen to their story as well as voluntary consent. Third is to follow the three guidelines for effective responsive storylistening (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 143). Initially there are basic assumptions and purposes that need to be clarified with training and implementing; second, making our story available to others and third concerns the expectations of who listens and how we listen. Our expectations consist of four aspects, universality, stories are never complete and we are unique as our stories, they need to be written or in spoken words, and our stories are generalizations. Storylistening has limitations to freedom in which to choose any lifestory which stems from personal and socialcultural situations. As Kenyon & Randall (1997) commented, “Our ethical obligation to others is to respect the integrity and autonomy of another person by accepting the story that he or she chooses to live by. This is a sine qua non for entering the lifeworld of another (p. 156).

            In storylistening the question of whose story is it can be answered as reflection on one’s own attitudes or meaning during a biographical encounter, in order to clarify whose story is being constructed in various situations (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 150). Our morals come into play when dealing with practical ethics which is the reflective process to answer basic questions. Theoretical ethics meaning the ethical concepts include autonomy, freedom, and beneficence. (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 144). Ethical reasoning follows as we try to put ourselves in another’s shoes in order to see the larger story.

            Life as story has the potential for enabling growth for the storylistener, the storyteller and for the larger story which incorporates four aspects of the journey metaphor. The human journey is personal and is the out inside story, our story is social and interpersonal including wonder and anticipation, the landscape of the journey resembles a winding river in which our views are opaque bringing the element of risk, and the duration of the journey is indefinite incorporating an impermanent or transitory character (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 29-30). We know that the journey goes somewhere that is, has a “telos” or end point (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para.p.30). Also, included is biographical aging, the setting of larger stories and its characters which influence us as the authors commented, “The place is in our story, just as our story is on some level in the place” (p. 96).

            Characters which are major, minor, flat, and round imagoes which suggest that we are not just one person as we characterize ourselves in our self-concept. We go through stages of infancy in accepting storying as fact, in childhood we play and pretend, in our teenage years we begin imitating and adulthood there is a social need to “keep up with the Joneses.” In our lifestories friends exist to authorize us, to make meaning of ourselves, our relationships, our emotions, and our life.

            Additionally, other entailments include the narrator, author, and the point of view referring to the structure of a story in terms of the perspective from which it is told. Also is genre as Kenyon & Randall (1997) noted, “The character is entwined with plot” as we shape our events through choices and in turn, events shape us” (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 78). Similarly is context, content, and themes hence, our restorying becomes more empowering with the storytelling and self-narration (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 113).

            There four aspects of self-narration, time, tone, vocabulary, and voice which are considered a meta-concept. According to Kerby (1991)

            …many pieces of our lifestory run parallel within us, this is the drive to do what the novelist does, which is to continually pull a myriad events and emotions, details and developments, relationships and possibilities into an ever wider story-world that has a coherence and followability” (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 55).

Depending on the story-lines inspired within us and the emotions they construct, we can see ourselves as wizard in one situation and worm in the other (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p.75) Therefore, a lifestory is then considered authored, co-authored and re-authored with a beginning, middle, and end in order to find meaning. Does a person’s story ever end? The answer is no as it can carry on after a person has separated from life into death.

            Our world has transitioned into separateness. It is a postmodern money-oriented society filled with changes, dilemmas in family structures, births, deaths, employment, and religion. We live our lifestories within a socialcultural context that is itself deeply storied from bottom to top, and is endlessly being restoried (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p.32). We are managed from the outside resulting from the division of the stages of life, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Kenyon & Randall ( 1997) remarked, “…causing people to experience serious problems as a result of the fundamental changes in the themes and plots characterizing the stories of our lives as we approach the twenty first century” (p. 10). This does not change the fact that we have stories and are the stories we tell as notions of autonomy and independence are based on radical individualism and do not reflect our storied nature (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 153). The question becomes, what are our stories made of?

            We have summaries of events and summaries of people called storyotypes which is the biographical imperative. Through the storyotypes we form some, such as those, we know intimately, are more lifelike and flexible than those we form of others, the drive holds steady to form them nonetheless (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p.74). We have short stories versus long stories as the audience prefers a synopsis, subplots versus chapters as a subplot is one element that makes up the main plot of a story incorporating guided autobiography that traces themes of one’s life, past versus future stories, shared stories, specific versus general stories, fuzzy stories versus focused stories, ordinary versus extraordinary like novelty being the change we experience in the course of ordinary living can be compared to our experience in reading a novel (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 100). We have signature stories that we like to tell and our secret stories, also public versus private, and last our untold stories. All of these stories have motivation and context related to each for example, that a cultural story may be appropriate or inappropriate to tell. As we mature so does our memory and it changes as Kenyon & Randall (1997) commented, “Things change in our memory with the passing of years- in importance, in meaning, in perceived impact on the course our life” (p. 53). This re-genre-ation empowers the lifestory metaphor.

            Some people focus on the outer image of aging and existing storyotypes as Kenyon & Randall (1997) remarked, “ …they cannot maintain an open relationship between the person they are inside, their inside story, and the social and structural dimensions of their story, the outside story (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 26). Biographical aging is explained by considering the number of individuals who assume the negative stereotypes of aging, imposed by the outside and how many persons live stories that are meaningful and positive and perhaps express the wisdom and history of aged lives (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 29).

            The concept of story has its own history referring to poetic structure and it has four levels: the outside story, the inside story, the inside-out story and the outside-in story. Kenyon & Randall (1997) clarified, “…if the outside story is what happens to me, the inside story is what I make of what happens to me and what I tell myself. In turn, the inside-out story is what I tell (and show) to others of what I make of what happens to me, while the outside-in story is what others make of me on their own, with or without my consent” (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p.36).

            Life stories have histories, a present and a future but what they have in common is the resources behind their restorying. Resources can be formal transformative influences such as, in education when there is a transfer of knowledge and religion as a great master narrative described as a mythos which guides the plot by which the world is declared logical to us so we can live with meaning and hope. Therapy as a resource is considered food for the soul. Whereas, informal resources consist of influences such as, other people associated with coauthoring and the three types of people who we learn from living people, dead people, and fictional people. Learning from others means co-authoring and co-reading leading to as Kenyon & Randall (1997) mentioned, “…the increased potential for learning that this will entail (insofar as two texts are more textured than one)” (p.116). This also includes ourselves within the meaning of art as it tries to transfuse to our experience some aspect of their own: to connect directly with our inner world, to transform it in novel ways (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 107-114).

            As I reflect upon the book I feel that it offered important and valuable insights as to storytelling, restorying, and storylistening. In narrative there is a beginning, middle, and an end whereas, in our lifestory there is a beginning, middle, and an ending carried on long after we have passed over. I enjoyed reading and learning that I am living my lifestory of the past, present and transitioning into the future to be the best person I can be. I found it interesting to note that as I transition it is my restorying that empowers me to critically think about my life, my experiences, and how I perceive my life looking at it from an eagle’s eye view.

            Furthermore, when I tell, retell, and edit my story I am going through the process of self-understanding as the listener begins to learn more about me. I consider situations, culture, environments, and people that are appropriate for my stories to be heard. For example, being pansexual I am comfortable revealing secret stories to a friend of mine who is a transgender man, yet I would not tell my story of marrying and divorcing a transman or being involved in a hate crime to anyone that I do not trust or do not know well, like an acquaintance. For one thing, in opening up to a stranger I will know nothing about their story or culture, views, and beliefs hence, their reactions to my restorying might not be well received.

            This literature on restorying has made me aware that my lifestory is constructed on my interpretation of my experiences and how I making meaning of them. I have learned that my metaphor of life as story is a perspective on my self-development, self-change, and self-understanding. As I mature, as each birthday that passes, I will restory who I am, what I am and how I came to be resulting in what I hope to bring positive changes for me in the future. This book was worth my time and energy reading as it has opened my eyes to a different lens which has led me to reflecting on my own lifestory as a metaphor. I feel I have changed in how I view my life after I completed the reading of the book.

            In conclusion, Kenyon & Randall utilizes their constructive perspective on how and why people storytell and storylisten, retell, and restory. Our story is a metaphor for life. Everyone has a lifestory to tell and it can be edited at times to suit the needs of the listener. For instance, one of my signature stories that I like to tell is that at forty two years of age I was told I was overqualified with due to eighteen years of experience in the field of accounting along with two bachelor’s degrees. I was also told that I was too old to be employed. According to Kenyon & Randall (1997), “In the western world, it is still the case that we live in a culture that both explicitly and implicitly discriminate against older persons” (p. 26). I was able to learn from this experience and told my story to my college mentor who suggested that I go for a master’s in adult learning. This opened up the door to a new journey as I chose the resource of education in restorying my life. During this time I struggle with slow reading skills. I have expressed this in many classes as part of my short story and have found confidence in the authors comments, “…we are not “slow” like we have always been labeled but that our learning style merely requires more time to process our thoughts, which may in fact be more solid than those of our quick-thinking peers” (p. 108). I find I am a better writer as I have written my autobiography which includes plots and subplots, characters, settings and themes. I believe editing to be tedious but necessary as I want to keep the audience’s attention as if they were reading a novel.

            I have public stories such as I am a grad student and fuzzy stories for instance, when I five years old and living in the attic with bugs that came out at night when in actuality my mother told me that I did sleep in the attic, but before I moved my stuff up there she had to fumigate hence, there were bugs but not when I slept at night afterwards. I also have secret stories which few have heard. One of them entails my going to a shrink at fifteen years old and after six months I was told she could not see me anymore since she completed her thesis paper on my lifestory. I have learned to accept myself, my memories and my stories as part of my own growth process and development as I continue on my path of collecting stories and then storytelling, storylistening, and restorying my life to others because I am a person and I do have a story to tell.


Kenyon, G. M. & Randall, W. L. (1997). Restorying our lives: personal growth through autobiographical reflection. Westport: Praeger.

Quote: Kenyon, G. M. & Randall, W. L. (1997). Restorying our lives: personal growth through autobiographical reflection. Westport: Praeger. p. 136.


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