I have discovered something quite by chance while working on my book.
I have unearthed the deep dilemma that I run into every time that I start to write that causes me to run into a brick wall. Finally it makes sense and it may alter what I’m writing and how I’m writing it but it will mean the road ahead is clear and the roadblocks that come up every single time will have been moved out of the way. Here it goes.
I am writing non-fiction. I aim to draw stories, pieces of my life lived through and wisdom gained. Whether a hard time or a joyful one the important thing has been the lesson learned. Okay, how do I start? I start with a timeline. Here’s where it starts to get tricky.
In the one above I have started, as I do, and began with my earliest recollection, in this case I was writing the “pearls” or happy times on one side, planning to write the challenging on the other. I just numbered them and knew that I would go back and expand and add to the list as I remembered things during the writing process. When I looked at the list, and really paid attention to what was happening, I was startled to realize for the first time that this book I have been trying to approach from a number of different angles was always getting to a specific point and then as if falling off a cliff to it’s death, at the same place each time, and I now know for very good reason.
One of the affects of having been sexually abused from 4 to 18 is that it left gaps and black holes in my memory. I cannot remember most of grade school. I cannot tell you my teacher’s names or what I learned when. Blacking out long stretches is common for a child whose memory blocks things out to protect the fragile one and so for me I start trying to list things and there are relatively few early memories which always both leaves me at a loss and makes me very sad. I have my little list of memories and great Grand Canyon stretches of nothingness.
Added to this being bipolar among a few other mental health diagnoses means that I look back over this list, my past, my memories, my life, as if through a fun house mirror. Things become linked in odd sorts of ways and are so distorted that I can’t figure out how to write a book that is threaded through time in the way most people remember theirs. There is no chronological certitude or understanding. And I can’t trust what I see, and I collapse in on myself frightened, at a loss, and feeling so crippled by the lack of knowledge that I have about my own life that I feel ashamed and confused. Bottom line — if I couldn’t write a book chronologically it didn’t seem to have much merit in terms of how a person is grown, learns things, and comes to live in the world as a mature person, a person past middle age even. If you are 20 years old right now you likely remember volumes about your life, and I remember but a fraction of mine from 18 years old on back. And with no early foundation everything past that time collapses in on itself and becomes a muck and a muddle.
I can tell you how I watched my children grow, the way their early years helped form the person they became, I can tell you about their homeschooling and Christmases and birthdays. Most of my memories from my youth are gone forever. I find this so sad, because the abuse took with it many happy memories, things I would have cherished knowing today. I felt so stung by all of this I wondered what the point was for me to try to write at all. But then…
It occurred to me that just because I don’t consciously remember it is still there, somewhere, underneath it all, this lost childhood of mine. And the ways in which it shaped my life, for good, and in challenging ways, is here with me. If I approach the writing not from a chronological point of view but in trusting who I am and how I have grown and the things I have learned and do continue to learn then the pearls are those things that come up each day, in each moment as I write. Sometimes little episodes, stories, and teachings rise to the surface of the pool of my subconscious and a pearl is released. I can capture them as they turn up and share them. They might be out of order chronologically and I might not ever know where they came from and why they surfaced, but does that make them any less jewels caught in the net of my conscious mind? In fact it makes them more precious, precious indeed.
In writing this book, and yes I am continuing on, I am not just writing a book but I a coming up with answers to things that have long been blocks and confusing, sometimes even heartbreaking. The writing of this book is a healing journey, a gift, a pearl beyond measure. My life is a string of pearls, so is yours, I am diving for pearls everyday. It is one of the most exciting things I have ever done.
Onward and upward and away I go!