Stories aren’t Experiences

I tell lots of stories from backpacking and from playing music. But I can never tell enough or tell them well enough to adequately represent what happened.

I used to tell stories so I could impart some aspect of an experience I had. But I soon figured out that this was a mostly impossible task. There are a few directions a story can go:

The “You Had to be There”. We all tell these stories. You start talking about something and the poor person listening to you has no idea why your story is interesting. But to you it was the most interesting or the funniest thing that happened so the lack of understanding is hard to swallow.

The “ALL the Feelings”. There are many stories I have started to tell and can’t get through them because they have such an emotional charge in my mind. Most of them have to do with some particular mountain top or some specific performance when I found myself exceeding my own expectations.

The Landscape Description. Try as I might to describe in words what some terrain looked like or what some piece sounded like, I cannot. “They should have sent a poet” does not begin to describe this frustration.

But there is a reason stories can never adequately represent an experience: they are bound up in so much more than what happened. An experience has aspects of emotions, perceptions, and time that can never be fully described. There is an infinity of occurrences immanent to any event and thus they elude story telling.

Or at least they elude story telling as a representation of something that happened. Story telling itself is an art form that takes on independent agency.

But the indescribable nature of experiences is a testament to their beauty. I could spend a lifetime trying to explain a single moment. This is also a testament to the limits of our language.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, an experience is worth an infinity. So I can tell all the stories about an event that I want but they won’t add up to what I actually got out of it.

The particular experience I had is mine alone and that is an introspectively beautiful thing.

(Image retrieved from


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