I’ve mentioned before that I view myself as a collection of various pieces and parts. Who I am now is a patchwork of all my experiences; all the joyous memories, all the painful experiences, all the wise choices, and all the foolish ones.
Not everything comes together in smooth, well-sewn seams with clean edges and lines. Memory becomes mixed with emotion. Emotion becomes tempered by time. Time stops being synchronous. I was writing a scene recently that brought this to my attention. I have been struggling to write lately for a variety of reasons – some self-inflicted and others, not so much. I chose to turn to past experience to inform my present circumstances, and found I couldn’t remember the details of something I had once deemed terribly painful and significant in my life.
It was a bit of a shock, suffice to say. I was actually startled, then frustrated, as I tried to reconnect with those details, those memories that had once clearly defined me as a human being so many years ago. I could recall in general the experience, could remember key elements of it, but dates and times were vague. I thought for a moment I was experiencing an early form of Alzheimer’s.
I said out loud, “Why can’t I remember this?” and I felt a sort of mild panic. And then the details floated to the surface, and I realized that they had become integrated, absorbed, and softened. I no longer needed that particular definition of myself, so the details had blended in, become malleable and faded. For all the uncomfortableness of that experience, it was rewarding in some ways to discover that much of the reason it had happened had to do with personal growth.
This is by no means a dissertation on my phenomenal evolution as a human being. There are still plenty of warts, and there is much evolving yet to do. But to find that something which had one time been an intense source of pain is now plowed under like soft dirt – well, honestly, that was comforting.
Much of my writing is drawn from my life, though certainly not all of it. However, there is a comfort in starting with what you know, with what is familiar. Writers have to be willing to dance with the dark shadow of themselves as well as the brighter side, but there are so many who are afraid to dig around in those scary corners of their lives.
They will hint at, talk around it, brighten it up, lie about it, but many will never fully connect with it and draw up it to create something truly and emotionally meaningful. And I don’t just mean the bad, nasty things that happened to us all. I don’t just mean the dysfunction of families we didn’t choose. We all made mistakes, we all made bad decisions, we all said and did things (and still do) that we regret or are embarrassed by. All these things become part of that patchwork. Even when the details fade a bit and the emotions recede, they are still part of who we are as human beings and as writers.
But I have to confess – being able to wallow around in some of the scarier parts without that sharp and immediate pain is a good thing. I may need to dig around in some more of my old psychic wounds I’ve been avoiding just to see if I’ve made any progress there.