“We can think of the essay as the short form of nonfiction, having its own special intensity and requirements, as the short story is the short form of fiction. Not all fiction is literary fiction, and not all nonfiction is literary, either. But some is.” — Annie Dillard from the Introduction of the Best American Essays of 1988
A text, one that I’d really been waiting to receive for a number of years, came Saturday. Since the arrival of the text and the subsequent fall-out I’ve been forced to revisit my own ideas about writing, about privacy, about the difference between having the courage to stand within the frame of your own narrative and conversely, claiming bits of narrative for you own at the risk of misappropriating it.
What I take away from this experience is what I’ve long suspected about the genre of memoir/non-fiction — that those who enter into their own stories, and steer them — run the risk of upsetting the apple cart, and I’ll tell you apples are all over the floor here, regardless of the care with which I thought I crafted my thoughts — Blood Signs never was, or rarely was, a place where I just tossed things into the ether. These were things that had been mulling and spinning; things I had been sitting with for some time. I always knew the repercussions of the telling. I was reminded of the aspects of mindfulness and right speech — and for days now I’ve sat wrestling with question of how you can write personal nonfiction without harm — if its possible — how many writers, after all, don’t write their parents’ stories until their death? But what of the sisters, the brothers, the people with whom you share the narrative? There is a way to do this — to keep it centered somehow, ever centered on your own lens — and requires a kind of ruthless self-reflection that I’m still working on.
A few people who know me through the blog world — and personally as well — have asked me how this new blog will change — will it affect my writing? My ability to write?
It will change some of its content, but not all; What I know is that for the first time in four years — since my struggles with infertility — I found myself trying to muffle my own sobs in my laundry room as Z played steps away from me — and the sobs were not about being ‘discovered’ because I understood the risks of having an openly accessible only vaguely anonymous blog — but rather I was sobbing at the thought of losing this space, this “writing ground” as a friend so eloquently put it, and I’m sure, with some amount of shame — for I’ve always felt so deeply responsible for people’s pain even when I wasn’t the cause of it — let alone when I was. (I was the child in elementary school who burned with shame when the teacher admonished the entire class for something one unnamed student had done — I hadn’t done it — but I still felt my face go hot — let alone the kind of physical illness that I feel if I know I’ve hurt someone else.)
I asked myself why did I have to write out in the public — why not just write in a journal as I had for so many years — or open my long-abandoned Scrivener application and work on my novel — what was it about this medium that I was grieving for?
The component, of course, is community — connection, as Melissa said on her blog once — it was like sending out a message in a bottle — or that first transmission into space — and someone calls back from the darkness.
In 1998 my family stood in a crowd of people in an art studio on the University of Montana campus — the art students had been doing replicas of great works of art — half-finished paintings of Rembrandt and Rubens — and I read a short-story based on my Aunt’s madness. I wrote about a woman who hits a deer on her arrival home to her family’s cottage after her sister’s release from a mental institution — the narrator, believe it or not, is dealing with infertility (years before I would realize it really would be my story) — and she’s dealing with her mother’s denial of her sister’s illness as her sister paces the cottage and the scenes are rife with tension — my family sat and listened and the room erupted in applause after I’d finished.
There were things I could say in the guise of fiction — and no matter what permission I’d been granted, I wonder if these truths are something I can really utter aloud to a standing room. I am referring solely to my material about my family of origin here; I am clearer about the other material …
I just don’t know yet.
There are practical matters — I’d like to have separate rooms in this blog for separate things — that I can add to as one adds to your blog — with new pages for each entry. This may be messy for awhile, but as we know — life is messy.
I started with that Dillard quote because my intention is to keep writing, and continuing to come to the page — with an eye to craft as well as self-reflection.
I found this quote from William Nicholson, the writer who wrote the screenplay for Shadowlands (about CS Lewis)
“These are books that plunge unashamed into the muddy waters of meaning, and flounder their way, sometimes ridiculously, towards Big Answers. I love books that make me cry out, ‘But I’ve asked that too! I’ve felt that too!’ In my play about C.S.Lewis, Shadowlands, I gave Lewis the line, ‘We read to know we’re not alone.’ That has been my own experience. It’s through books that people I’ve never met have reached out to me, saying, ‘This is what matters most to me. Does it matter to you too?’ This feeds something very different to the appetite for entertainment. It feeds, I suppose, the hunger for meaning.”