I had the thought as I walked through the store yesterday with two new books in hand (hardbacks, delectable!) on my way to meet Jeff, who was searching for manly things like padlocks and extension cords and possibly antennae, that I have written a great deal about my life with my children, but is it really my story?
You could answer this question a number of ways:
- No, it’s not your story. It’s your children’s story.
- No, it’s not your whole story in that it represents only a part of your life—the parenting people with special-needs part.
- No. It’s neither yours nor theirs. You can’t claim to represent your boys’ minds/thoughts/hopes/dreams/inner reality. Duh. Impossible. Or…
- Yes, it’s the story of where you and your boys’ lives meet. It’s your collective story.
Having time away from children on this retreat has allowed me to lounge and idle. I can think philosophically about the rhetorical purpose of my writing.
I’m out of my parenting element, blissfully, and don’t have all sorts of parenting stories to tell. At rare times like this when I masquerade as a normal person with a normal life, I find that I notice things about other people.
I notice the way their children sit quietly for reasonable periods and eat quesadillas at the Mexican restaurant. I notice the broad range of hobbies in which people engage. I notice the absence of anxiety in my surroundings.
Anxiety is the emotion that rules my household, despite the calm centered-ness Jeff and I try to exude. If you want to try something wild, try exuding calm centered-ness when people are screaming in your face.
If pride is the universal sin, then anxiety is the universal issue for my people.
What I am currently feeling is a lack of anxiety. It all drained out of me when we left town.
It’s easy to say to yourself when you are experiencing the calm of a getaway, “I’m going to carry this feeling right back into my regular life.” I am guilty of thinking I can take my deep-seated peacefulness home and shine it like a glowing lantern on my family’s problems.
I can hope. But then inevitably something in my life promptly hits the fan as soon as the vacation ends, while other aspects of life swirl right down the crapper.
So I know better than to expect the peace to go home with me. And while this is not terrific, it’s okay—because with all the crap comes the good writing. The gold mine of insights born of difficulty.
I started the memoir Hungry Heart today (thank you, world, for making memoirs a thing, which *might* be my favorite genre). In it, the prolific “women’s lit” author, Jennifer Weiner, writes about her life, including her writing life. Turns out, I love her. She drops these little gems about writing.
Like this: ” I believe that, through education and inclination, through temperament and history, all authors grow up to be a particular kind of writer, to tell a specific type of story. We could no more change the kind of work we do—the voice in which we write…than we could our own blood type.”
I have always felt that I have no other story to tell than my own. That’s it. But tell it I must. Perhaps this is because God gave me the children he did. He knew I wouldn’t write fiction, but I would be happy to write the shiz out of our family’s experiences.
Weiner also made this jewel of an observation about hardship: “Maybe I was lucky, after all. Maybe the damaged ones, the broken ones, the outcasts and outsiders end up survivors, and successful, and with empathy as their superpower, an extra-sensitivity to other people’s pain, and the ability to spin their own sorrow into something useful. Maybe my parents and Simsbury and all those hard, lonely years did me a favor. Because now I have stories to tell.”
Whoa. Yes. Amen.
And then she quoted “Diving into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich (who, incidentally, came to Westminster College as a visiting poet when I was an undergraduate. I sat at a small table with her and listened to her read poems and talk about poetry as we ate brownies).
Read this poem and tell me it doesn’t have real-world application to things, such as my life.
“Diving into the Wreck”
I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed
the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.
“The damage that was done/the treasures that prevail.”
Beauty and meaning lies in the structure of the wreck, the living of it.
And so, I will dive back in.