Several students on my staff worked on the Clamor editorial board and, knowing that I’m a writer, kept prodding me to submit something. My short stories are way too long and I didn’t have anything short enough that was anywhere near worth sharing. So I started poking around through old journal entries—stuff I’d written probably four years ago when I was processing a lot about my childhood. I found a piece that was mostly narrative and started playing with it, trying to cobble together some sort of story. But the more I played with it, the more I extracted and peeled apart the layers until I was left with something very condensed.
Then I found another journal entry, written a few months later. I followed the same process. I rewrote the entire thing, changing the point of view from first person past tense to second person present tense. This helped quite a bit. The pieces I was working with were intensely personal, and changing the POV and tense felt like putting on a warm, comfortable mask.
I changed a couple details—very minor things. What was really a car is now a truck, for example. But the story was the same. It’s told in two parts. The first is a scene: a girl getting picked up from her grandparent’s house. The second is a reflection, an awareness of why the narrator is who she is now.
I liked these pieces. I liked that I could hide behind my truths by changing some very minor details. If this were to be published in the campus lit journal, I would be putting myself in a very vulnerable position. Friends and colleagues might see it. They might learn my secrets.
And then I thought about those secrets: that my mother suffered mental illness most of her life, that her illness affected me tremendously, and that I have struggled with depression and will likely remain on mood stabilizers for the rest of my life, even though I have been in remission for more than four years. Both of these things have been difficult for me to accept, and are very difficult to admit to others. But the thing is, they are common stories, and certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
So I kept writing, poking at what I had on the page.
It wasn’t enough. It needed more.
And that’s when I started playing with haibun.
I love haiku and its simplicity, but have never really played with it. All I know of how to write it is the 5-7-5 structure. So I played it safe and followed that rule (knowing that most haiku does not follow this structure). I wrote two haiku, one to follow each chunk of prose.
The first is from the narrator’s point of view and it marks an awareness of what was happening when she was young. The second is an acknowledgement of her present reality. The two haiku are meant to sit as contrasts: treatment of the mother’s and the daughter’s depression.
The piece doesn’t feel finished, largely because I don’t yet know enough about the haibun form. I haven’t practiced it enough to know how to present this story the way it should be presented. But that, I think, is okay. Simply having the piece out there—accessible to nearly everyone—is what’s important. I remind myself that this isn’t about writing perfect pieces. Truly it’s not about form at all; it’s about telling a story, finding a way to tell it so that I can make it real to my reader. More than anything, it’s about putting my work out there, sharing my secrets.
Yesterday I was talking with someone about practice in the context of some of my new adventures. I’ve recently started dating and, as I was telling K., I feel as though I am fumbling through the process, completely unaware of how to approach this new phase of my life. She paused for a moment and told me this:
In Eastern cultures, many things are talked about as practice: martial arts and yoga, for example. Even the best black belts and the most centered yogis practice. It is all a pursuit of continuing to learn, continuing to be better.
And this is how it is. I should approach dating or work or writing as practice. None of these pieces will be done. I will never be the best at haibun. This project will never be everything I want it to be. I am evolving. My writing is evolving. This book is evolving.
More than anything, though, when I put that notion of practice into the context of my writing—specifically this project—I realize that it’s all about the practice of storytelling, the practice of sharing, the practice of telling my truths.