This piece by a student is about writing memoir. It was written in response to a discussion about The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit. I am always touched by these, especially since Rebecca Solnit herself writes about the act of writing memoir in this memoir.
At our quarterly Read and Write, we first read aloud from the book, weaving around themes and understandings. Then we pick passages that make good prompts and write from those for a bit, then share with each other.
The selected prompt here is "A delay can last a lifetime," which provoked many of my students, who tend to be women in their late 40's, 50's and 60's. We discussed Malcolm Gladwell's article Late Bloomers from a 2008 New Yorker, which has come back to my attention a few times recently. This is a huge topic in the "boomer" generation and in the world of growing interest in memoir. How late is too late? Ever?
This whole piece is a lovely contemplation, but lines such as these really struck all of our attention: "The heart has a hard time hiding truth, hiding joy, hiding pain,""I have begun to fill them as my memories leak out like poison gas from that box," and " Like Mohammed I will be the messenger of my memories’ tales. I will tell them in their voices word for word."
A delay can last a lifetime... (prompt from Rebecca Solnit - The Faraway Nearby)
By Christa Bruhn
My life feels delayed, but is it? Have I not lived? If I can let go of whatever I thought my life was
supposed to be, what it is and has been may actually come into focus. I have been going through my
days wearing someone else’s glasses. No wonder I squint and don’t believe what I see. I need to take
them off, see my life with my own eyes, then I can also tell my story, my experience as I actually lived it, not as I was expected to remember it or even forget it.
Writing my story feels fresh and new even if the memories are incomplete or fading because much of
my life is locked away in a little black box, so well hidden that retrieving it is itself a kind of journey.
Reaching for my own memories feels like breaking the rules, defying authority. But am I not the keeper of my own story? Do I have rights to my own experience? The memories are locked away so long I could believe they never existed, and yet however tightly they were locked away, I could feel them because the black box was hidden in my heart. The heart has a hard time hiding truth, hiding joy, hiding pain. Clenched and constricted it has tried to keep the lid on that box, but like a prisoner in a cell these memories could only long for their freedom regardless of what they have done.
I realize I made a choice to lock them away, which had its share of repercussions in how I have chosen to live my life. Setting them free will have its own repercussions that I again have to live with. But without my memories, my stories, what is there to tell? No wonder the pages have accumulated, journal after journal of white space with a pretty cover, all invitations to write or witnesses of my silence. I have begun to fill them as my memories leak out like poison gas from that box. If I open it once and for all, the fresh air will breathe new life into them and they may very well begin to tell themselves. Like long lost friends my memories will break the silence of years and begin to recall what once was, compare notes, laugh hysterically or be brought to tears.
I can feel them all huddled together, almost waiting in anticipation. Who will speak first and what
will they say? I will be their scribe. Like Mohammed I will be the messenger of my memories’ tales. I
will tell them in their voices word for word. Will I at some point enter my own story? At what point
will they merge with who I am now or who I have become? Or will the telling merge us, making one
indistinguishable from the other? Will this lifelong delay finally be lifted so that we breathe the same air and live the same story? Somehow I wonder what will become of me if our voices merge, if I invited my memories onto the page. Time will tell if there is indeed life beyond that delay...