Staying undone

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.

Published by

Anna Palmer

Anna Rosenblum Palmer is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. She writes about sex, parenting, cat pee, bi-polar disorder and the NFL; all things inextricably intertwined with her mental health. In her free time she teaches her boys creative swear words, seeks the last missing puzzle piece and thinks deeply about how she is not exercising. Her writing can be found on Babble, Parent.co, Great Moments in Parenting, Ravishly, Good Men Project, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Playpen, Crazy Good Parent, and YourTango. She also does a fair amount of navel gazing on her own blog at annarosenblumpalmer.com.

4 thoughts on “Staying undone”

  1. I hear you barking, sister. As a person who prides herself on giving direct feedback it can be VERY hard when I am feeling like I am doing my best to be positive and constructive to people and since I am very direct generally they feel they should be very direct in every circumstance with me. It’s a fine line and I have found myself with very hurt feelings on some occasions. I have actually said upon occasion “I’m trying really hard to be positive and kind in this context, so if you feel like I’m being too direct or harsh please tell me”. That way, I give myself permission to repeat back to others that their feedback feels to harsh or too direct or too whatever. I feel like in daily life I don’t really get to say that since I am absurdly filterless. It sounds to me like you have been going out of your way to be positive in this context and perhaps since the people in your writer’s group know you they are feeling free to give very direct feedback because that’s how they encounter you in your life outside your writer’s group.
    Ugh, I’m sorry. Being human is shitty and hard when it’s not fun and light.
    I love you.

  2. For what’s it worth I was so engrossed in this blog and in your experience, that I burnt the last remaining piece of toast in my house. The piece of toast which was going to be my comfort food – what I used to have ever time I was sick as a kid. Tea and toast. No one’s perfect. 🙂

    So I would say, ease up on yourself. Change is hard. Direct critique is hard. Continuing is your commitment and I’m damn proud of you.

    Sorry to miss celebrating you yesterday. This cold blows.

  3. You should be proud of yourself for participating in a writer’s group and opening yourself up for critique. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to receive criticism on something so personal as a piece of writing (no matter how constructive the critics try to be). You need to continue to write and to share your thoughts and — where you think it is reasonable and where your voice won’t be interrupted/lost — incorporate the advice of your peers into your writing.

    I truly love the paragraph you shared here with us. I see what your message is and it is humbling to think about how we touch the lives of those around us, often without ever being aware. We are all a pebble in the water, a ripple touching other ripples. We are all in our own way George Bailey and your paragraph captures that feeling perfectly for me.

    I have said this before, I will say it again, keep writing, your words have meaning. Your creative writing group will help you strengthen your voice. (that is after all why you joined the group — right?)

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