Blog post by Katana Rider

The creative text by Laura Shepherd, “Forgiving the Future,” published in  GUTS Magazine (2016) was a great connection and exemplar for one of Arthur Frank’s narrative he discusses in The Wounded Storyteller.  The most intriguing aspect of this creative text is possibly the image that Shepherd used; which I understood the image to be a representation of the two facets of Frank’s quest narrative.

As Frank describes it, the quest narrative is defined as the ill person who, through their voice, tells the listeners about their experience of finding a sense of purpose through their illness or suffering (Frank, 2013). In this narrative, the ill person’s voice is heard because they are seen as the witness to their own story and they are able to change their experiences of illness or suffering as they tell listeners their story (Frank, 2013). Frank talks about the three types of facets in his book, which are classified as memoir, manifestos and automythology (Frank, 2013).

In Shepherd’s text, memoir and automythology were the facets of quest that were evident throughout their text. Memoir is the gentlest type of quest narratives which are told stoically, without flourish and in fragments of past memories (Frank, 2013). The automythology facet of quest narrative is told as the ill person has, not only survived, but has reinvented themselves through individual change (Frank, 2013).

In Shepherd’s story, they talk about their experience of transitioning: “I felt the need to release my past from my body… I need to forgive” (Shepherd, 2016). In this portion of the text, Shepherd realized that to let go of their past and to accept their new self, they needed to forgive themselves – although forgiving themselves of what, exactly, the essay both describes and only alludes to. They realized this because of the first Tarot reading card they pulled up; the Death card in the form of a “figure wielding a scythe” (Shepherd, 2016). Shepherd first understood this card to be the sign of them either dying or coming close to death. But they realized that this card was a resemblance of their new identity as a trans woman. Shepherd identifies, in the second paragraph, that the figure has “characteristics of skeleton and living person” and has a gender that is neither “indistinct or unimportant” (Shephard, 2016). These characteristics relate to Shepherd’s quest narrative through the memoir and automythology of the facets of quest.

In Shepherd’s image, the figure’s upper body has skeletal features, while the legs are seen as a living person. This resonates with the concept of “interrupted autobiography,” where Frank describes this type of quest narrative to be told in fragments, based on the recollection of past memories. The fragments of both living and non-living parts of the figure is evident to how Shepherd is portraying their story with fragments of both their future that was based on their past and the new future they found as a trans woman. This is also evident in Shepherd’s text, where they say, “it [the tarot card] made me think not of life and death, but of all the tenses of time-past, present, future” (Shepherd, 2016). This quote shows that Shepherd also portrayed this figure, with living and non-living features, to show the interruption that Shepherd had not intended to encounter.

In seminar we talked about how Shepherd used the em dashes, throughout their text, as a form of interruption to tell their story; an example of how memoirs are told because of the use of telling the story in a nonchronological order. Another characteristic of memoir is shown through the face of the figure because it represents the ill person of a memoir facet of quest. The face of the figure portrays a feeling that the figure can do the work without complaining because of its weak demeanor. The facial emotions of the figure also have signs of the figure being gentle; which all add up to characteristics of a memoir narrative of quest. Similarly, Shepherd’s story about their journey was told stoically and had a steady growth of achieving the acceptance, from themselves and others, to be a trans woman. In the second last paragraph, Shepherd mentions that they simply decided to move into a cramped but private apartment, rather than join family for the holidays who were likely to misgender Shepherd. This shift in place is seen as Shepherd experiencing the hardships that they faced without seeing them as hardships; but as a small issue that was resolved in the course of their narrative.

The second facet of quest narratives evident in the image of the Death card is automythology. This facet of quest is also depicted in the figure’s characteristics of being half skeleton and half living person. This mix of the dead and living, I argue, shows the process of self-reinvention. In automythology, the ill person is reborn; where they had to change themselves slowly to become this new survivor and witness of illness. Throughout Forgiving the Future, Shepherd shows the listeners the experience of physically and mentally changing themselves into a trans women. In the second large quotes Shepherd says, “slowly, I have come to see how much I can free myself to live by how much I can forgive… The future takes time” (Shepherd, 2016). Shepherd is ‘re-inventing’ themselves as a trans woman by forgiving the future that they once expected to have prior to transitioning, and accepting themselves as a transgender person. Another aspect of automythology is seen in the physical notion of the scythe wielding into the word underneath it, which is ‘death.’ Before, the scythe was used to cut or reap crops; but Shepherd is also using forgiveness, which is symbolized as the scythe, to ‘reap death’ and to find their identity as a trans woman. Shepherd had reaped death, with their tool of forgiveness, by forgiving the old and giving birth to their new self as a trans woman. Also, since automythology is based on the change of an individual, which is the ill person, the image of the Death card portrays only one figure who is ‘forgiving the future.’


Work Cited List:

Frank, A. (2013). The Quest Narrative, The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics, Second Edition (pp. 114-135). Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Shepherd, L. (2016). Forgiving the Future. GUTS Magazine, 6.