The faces are friendly but the words are not. They are piling over each other, in no real order sometimes agreeing, sometimes arguing, but not coming together. At least not for me.
It is only our second session, and I have chosen to have my piece read for my birthday. This turned out not to be such a great decision.
I have smaller, neater pieces. Not polished because editing is my weakness, but with their own shine. This one is more of a tapestry, and I knew ahead of time it needed help. So I brought it in and waited for wisdom, for people outside of me to see it on the page instead of in my head. I figured I could take anything.
I was wrong. Bit by bit, they confirmed my fear. They would pick out lines and metaphors and love them. But the overall arc was not a narrative. There was no there there. My attempt to write into existence one unified me seemed to have failed. Small suggestions hurt a disproportionate amount and I found myself crawling inside me shut down to the people whose role it was to get me to open up.
Many times I think through writing, and this was an attempt to stitch together a quilt of the bits of my life and relations, with squares of my father’s fathering and his dying. My mother’s mothering, and ultimately my acceptance of her (s)mother style, my ex husband and how his magic faded, and the variety of roles I imagined myself taking. Then the big break, the ending of the endings and the beginning of the “me” of today. This clearly false idea that once I was ready, had lived enough to claim myself there would be one self. A singular self, defined quickly at a cocktail party, or in front of my son’s first grade class.
In the piece was a paragraph which was meant to comfort the still fragmented me. That life is never quite lived, and a story is never quite ended. Even after science says so.
We are each so many things. As long as we are breathing our narratives are never done. As long as we have connections, our stories can be written past our lifetimes, in the ways people remember us, and the whisper of ways that our presence has effected the people around us, we show up as shadows in other people’s stories. We are there, even if we are unnamed and our roles unclaimed.
The essay was my attempt to make a tangible whole out of the disparate part of my past and present. To create a theme out of the themeless, a battle cry out of this march forward.
My group echoed my own fear and judgement as they suggested breaking it apart into separate stories, or picking one lens. Clearly it was not a narrative, and maybe it can’t be. Their voices, mixed in with mine were harsher than they were in real life.
Amongst it all was the question of honesty. Was I being honest enough as I wrote this. I can barely understand this question. The point of writing for me, this blog, essays, any non-fiction, is as an outlet for what is inside me at just this moment.
Is that honest? I don’t know. Might it contradict what I write tomorrow or wrote yesterday? I suppose. We are not fixed. And that is the blessing and the curse.
In fiction I love stories where the narrator comes undone. Something upsets the order of the life she has created or inherited and she goes head first into the muck, flailing to stay afloat, learning strokes and then swimming with strength to shore to stand up and claim her new, true self.
Real life makes for a crappy storyarc, even if we each have a coming of age moment, after the fact we have rarely come of age. It is neither the coming undone nor coming together of fiction.
It is staying undone.
And hopefully growing thick enough skin to allow other people into the muck with you.