Once Upon a Time, I…

The stories we tell about ourselves

LaDonna Witmer
8 min readMar 30, 2024
All photos in this post feature a mural called “Jardins Efémeros” by Gonçalo Mar. Multiple towns throughout Portugal feature his artwork. This particular piece was painted in 2019 along Avenida de Moçambique in Setúbal.

We are the protagonists of our own stories. Each of us, inhabiting small worlds that revolve around me, myself, and I. We are the Skywalkers, the Harrys (or Hermiones?), the Atreides, the Dorothys, the Bagginses and Pevensies.

How else could it be really, as we are the ones who experience every moment — dull or dramatic — that moves our plot along toward some hopefully happy-ish end. Fate and the gods are beyond our control, so we can’t see what’s coming around every bend. But we do write our own narrative script. We don’t take ourselves out of context. We know what motivates us, what frightens us, what inspires and worries and soothes us. No one else is privy to all the nattering going on inside our own heads.

(Quick sidebar: did you know that not everyone has an internal monologue? I only learned this a couple of weeks ago when I read this Bustle article.)

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being the protagonist of your own life — I mean, here I sit writing regular essays about myself and my family, and I’m deep in the trenches crafting a memoir about my own childhood. Clearly I’m well-practiced in imagining myself as the heroine of my own tall tale.

So I’m not saying we shouldn’t be our own main characters. I’m just thinking it’s a good…