We ate the apples and wrote about their “waxy, buttery” skin and their crunchy flesh.
I read to them “The Bear” by Susan Mitchell, and we wrote about the bear, or the woman, who “dances under the apple trees,” “[d]runk on apples.” We imagined our own “breath leav[ing] white apples in the air.”
We amazed ourselves with the beauty of our stories.
Meanwhile, I’m asking myself how my memoir stands up as a story, not only my story.
I ask myself, Does it have the necessary ingredients for the heroine’s journey? Have I written a main character who faces obstacles and, as a result, changes just as much as a well-drawn fictional character?
In a recent nytimes.com piece called “Make Me Worry You’re Not OK,”, Susan Shapiro writes, “My favorite [personal nonfiction] essays begin with emotional devastation and conclude with surprising metamorphosis.”
We want metamorphosis in the stories we read and the stories we live. We want to find beauty and meaning in what we have shed.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes, “Secrets, like fairy tales and dreams, also follow the same energy patterns and structures as those found in drama. But secrets, instead of following the heroic structure, follow the tragic structure. . . . The secrets a woman keeps are almost always heroic dramas that have been perverted into tragedies that go nowhere.”
How do you or do I change our stories (lived and written) from tragedy to heroine’s journey?
We tell secrets, particularly those kept in shame.
Estes writes, “[T]he way to change a tragic drama back into a heroic one is to open the secret, speak of it to someone, write another ending, examine one’s part in it and one’s attributes in enduring it. These learnings are equal parts pain and wisdom. The having lived through it is a triumph of the deep and wild spirit.”
Telling my stories to an ever-widening audience transforms me from battered woman to proud member of the Scar Clan; it changes my story from tragic to heroic.
He quotes Christopher Hitchens, quoting Nadine Gordimer, who had advised Hitchens, “‘A serious person should try to write posthumously,’ Hitchens said, going on to explain: ‘By that I took her to mean that one should compose as if the usual constraints–of fashion, commerce, self-censorship, public and perhaps especially, intellectual opinion–did not operate.'”
So in 2013, I want to write as if I’ve already died, and live as if I might die at any moment.
I’ve been writing a series of freedom-centered writing prompts, and I want to share some of them here.
Here’s the first one:
In ancient Rome, slaves who were to be freed were given a hat called a pileus during a ceremony of emancipation. Reading that, I thought, “why would they want to wear a special hat–couldn’t they want to look ‘normal’ and hatless, not showing that they had ever been enslaved at all?
I caught myself. Isn’t that the same thing as asking why we can’t “pass” as someone who’s never experienced abuse or trauma of any kind?
Most days I can accept, and some days I can even celebrate, who I am because of my experiences. I am proud to wear the hat of a survivor.
Tonight in my workshop we described the scene outside our window: a policeman supervised the removal by tow truck of a tar kettle that had, apparently, somehow collided with a streetlight before we arrived.
Each of us wrote the scene quite differently.
In The Art of Description, Mark Doty writes, “It’s incomplete to say that description describes consciousness; it’s more like a balance between terms, saying what you see and saying what you see.”
Did we change the scene by writing it? Did the scene change us?
Quite rightly, we remained among the living;
Managed to hoard our strength; kept our five wits;
So far as possible, withheld our eyes
From sights that loosen keystones in the brain.
We suffered, where we had to, thriftily,
And wasted nothing on the hopeless causes,
Foredoomed escapes, symbolic insurrections.
So it is we, not you, who walk today
Under the rebuilt city’s raw façades,
Who sit upon committees of selection
For the commemorative plaque. Your throats
Are dumb beneath the plow that must drive on
To turn the fields of wire to fields of wheat.
Our speeches turn your names like precious stone,
Yet we can pay our tax and see the sun.
What else could we, what else could you, have done?
Skinniest letter, biggest word.
choose to define that letter/ word.