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sharing secrets, part ii

(This post was written on 7/27.)

Someone recently told me that it’s often easier to talk about taboo topics like sexuality than it is to talk about grief. She was absolutely right.

When I tell my story, it often feels, in this odd way, as though I am coming out, as if I am sharing something I maybe shouldn’t share. Earlier this year I started online dating. As I fumble my way through this new endeavor, I’m learning that relationship history is important in the dating world. We skirt around certain stories, and though we try not to break the cardinal sin of talking about an ex on a first date, it happens more often than not: I have talked with people about exes and bad dates and loves and losses. And the people with whom I’ve had these conversations are the people I’ve made the strongest connections with. As I listen to their stories, I am learning how to tell my story again and again, to open myself and allow myself to be vulnerable with new people. I am learning what to share and what to hold on to for later.

There are all kinds of reasons I shouldn’t say too much.

Largely, though, it’s because I can almost always predict what the person’s reaction will be. Silence. There’s often the obligatory ‘I’m sorry.’ Neither of these things are bad, per se; they just make for terribly awkward situations. The bereaved are incredibly vulnerable and those vulnerabilities are magnified by silence.

What I want to do with this book I am writing is give voice to some of the stories that I dare not share in public, certainly not with people who don’t know me well. Late last year, just as I was beginning to accept the fact that I would, indeed, write this book, I wrote this in my journal:

Let’s just call it Acceptance.

Not so much in the sense of the Final Stage of Grief. It’s not at all representative or anywhere near a finality. Rather, it’s a new outlook, a new way of viewing the world and Her place in it. It has taken years for Her to get here…

But now new truths exist. Everything here, everything you are about to learn, is absolutely true.

There is, for example, The Presence. The simple knowing that He is here with Her. It’s a feeling, more than anything, and nearly impossible to articulate, especially to those who have not felt it. It is a pushing against her skin, or a weight she feels against her back when she is lying in bed and He knows that She needs that closeness, or else She will not sleep.

There are people in my life with whom I can share these words and they will know exactly what I mean. But my job as a writer is to share these words and be comfortable doing so. My job as a writer is to tell my truth confidently and assuredly. My job as a writer is to make my words resonate with others.

The thing that I will not hesitate to share is that these tasks overwhelm me more than almost anything I’ve ever taken on.

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the practice of sharing

Earlier this year I had my first haibun published in my campus lit journal, Clamor. This was my first attempt at the form, and there’s a story behind why I wrote it.

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.


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sharing secrets, part i

It’s been surprisingly easy to return to blogging and, more importantly, to give my evenings over to writing. I love being here in the near-dark, listening to music, my faithful pit bull by my side as I fret over what word to type next. I don’t know why I don’t do this more often.

What happens is I often fall into this place where I hyper-analyze my process to the point that all I am writing about is why I so rarely write. I have to put that away. I have to focus on content now. I have to get this book out of my head and onto the page.

While I’m feeling (relatively) comfortable with focusing on content, it’s not easy to share some pieces of my story. Some posts will be password protected. Email me at beadyo@yahoo.com if you’d like to read those entries.