Do you love telling and hearing stories, meditating with guided visualizations, dreaming up better futures? If so, this short and unusual book is for you, and especially so, I think, if you have a guide or a group to work with through the exercises.

Author Carol Day, founder of Creative Earth Ensemble, based in Scotland, is a leading proponent of the use of therapeutic storytelling. She calls her work visionary questing and she situates it as one among a number of therapeutic models that support what she calls “a growing acceptance and understanding that the stories we tell ourselves can creative or change realities.” (These include narrative therapy, gestalt therapy, transactional analysis, and cognitive behavioral therapy.)

Day defines the word story as “a connected account or narration of some happening . . . a short history, and by development it is a narrative designed to interest and involve.”  But a story is more than just something interesting.  “The stories of our lives,” Day writes, “are also the Authorities of our lives. If we can become aware of the stories and their Authors or the Authority we give to certain stories and their Authors, then we start to be able to find ourselves as influential agents again.”

Using the metaphor of sailing on a Good Ship Story, Day invites one to “enter the space of imagination” as she takes the reader on a trip through the four cardinal directions.   
There is a fair amount of jargon in this book, and as someone who has done a lot of therapy but has no training as a therapist, I found it challenging to wade through the numerous terms and roles presented.  I get it that saying we are the Author of our own life means that we are the Author of specific aspects of our life; for example, a Secret Author is the part of oneself that is “unconscious and drives scripts.”  But I could barely keep track of all the metaphoric players and positions one is asked to sail through on this Good Ship Story. There are roles for an Artist, a Story Weaver, a Visionary Operator, a Counselor and a Constellation Practitioner. For each of the four directions (north, east, south, west) on the voyage, there’s an Anchor, Sea, Ship, Map, Story Study, Excavation and Findings.

This is all good workshop material, to work through with a guide, or to contemplate deeply one piece at a time.

What I did find useful in reading the book straight through was to consider a feature of my life with the lens of an Author, and then pick out some of the exercises to zero in on.  For example, Day writes (p. 40) of three methods to employ for investigative story work: nature responding; taking a walk or ride; and speaking. While out on a walk, tell yourself that you will find a receptive object in nature, and then you will find a flower or branch to tell your story to. Or, while out on a walk, feel into some life issue on which you’re stuck as if it’s a shape, a color or character, then look for signs of it, make notes of what appears and later write a “poem of freeing” about it. Or, choose something in your life that makes you feel troubled or happy, look at an object that represents that feeling, and just speak gibberish to it for five minutes, then note how you really feel and write that down.

The ideas in Story Compass seem to be ways to break through one’s entrenched, discursive mental habits and to tap into truthful intuitions, maybe in some unexpected way.

One of the blurb writers for Story Compass likens it to two classics in the genre of writing creatively to enhance one’s life:  Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones; and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  Story Compass is similar in that it’s the kind of book one can use for a set period of time – Carol Day recommends working with it over a six-month period – or by dipping in periodically and returning over and over to deepen one’s practices of personal growth.

~review by Sara R. Diamond

Author: Carol Day
2022, Moon Books
176 pages, $17.95