Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sinking and Saving in the Process of Writing Memoir

In this powerful writing by one of my students, she explores how her stories about herself both sustain her and pull her down. I have highlighted the passages that, in particular, relate to memoir stories - but overall, as she is working her way through writing a book-length memoir, Christa is also re-considering all of her life stories, related to the memoir or not. This kind of inherent crisis around life stories is pretty much a given in memoir writing, and a big part of why we need to Do It Together, not alone.

Her visceral, physical writing is super powerful - "quicksand," "tangled tendons," "waterlogged wings." What direct physical ways to describe the experience of one's mind!

What I want you to know is that while this was written from a place of and a moment of deep despair, Christa has strong resilience and belief in the power of getting the stories through and learning from them. You can especially hear this towards the end: "Why the commitment to misery? Meaningless misery." She finds the light readily, regularly, and so even when the quicksand takes her down, she can still see a way through, even if it is not able to be articulated at that moment.

Life Raft by Christa Bruhn

What keeps me afloat? What air is beneath my wings? My story is like quicksand, pulling me under, and yet I still breathe. How is that possible? What on earth sustains me? My story criss-crosses through my body like tangled tendons. I stretch as best I can but get no relief. There is no letting go when the tissue has already grown in and around these tendons. There is no untangling them. I am left with limited movement, labored breath, heavy, waterlogged wings that simply cannot fly. Grounded in this way I make the best of false starts and false hopes. Like marks on a prison wall, I count time. Walking are sweet moments of peace and liberation, but like a caged bird I return to the cage, sit in my solitude with no desire to swing or ring the bell. Sands shift, but only where there is wind. I don't even feel a breeze, no breath of fresh air. As a writer you'd think I could rewrite the story, change the ending, add some humor for comic relief, but the words fail me, the story is stubborn. It has written itself and struggles to survive unedited, uncensored. The shock value is too great, even frightening. Softening would be a slippery slope. When did I get stuck in the story like a hall of mirrors egging me on to find my way only to become completely turned around and lost? All I can see is my frantic face frustrated by my own fear. There is no retracing my steps. Even the fingerprints provide no clue. They are too faint. Like the Red Sea the path closes behind me. I can only keep going, however exacerbated I become. There is no logic to this maze, no obvious way out. Turn this way or that, it is one big guessing game only no one is laughing. Why the commitment to misery? Meaningless misery, like a cruel world in outerspace that simply knows no other way. It is too far out in space to know any other way, like a black and white world that has no sense of color. I am sinking in shades of grey, disappearing into darkness. Where is the light? 

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