Comma

What do you do with your stories? I’m not talking about novels, constructed stories, the kind we create from whole cloth and bring to life on the page. I’m thinking of the stories that serve as placeholders in our lives, the icons of memory which survive the passage of years with their outlines intact, colors still as vivid as the day they were made. The ones that stand out. Sometimes the reasons for their longevity are obvious—there could be some trauma attached, or spiritual elevation, like the time you first looked into your daughter’s eyes and really saw her looking back. Other times the resilience of a particular memory seems pointless, random, a lobster within your net of herring. Just a look, caught perhaps in reflective plane of glass, that two people exchanged behind your back. A plastic horse you used to play with as a child. The preoccupied frown on your mother’s face while she was making dinner.

I’ve never known what to do with stuff like this. My life is too ordinary to merit a full-on memoir, and I have no idiosyncratic slant to offer—also no desire to start another book-length project no matter what the topic. But journaling has given me a push in that direction. I’m starting to accumulate pages in my journals, a record of life as I’m living it, and for me these notes-to-self have a value that comes from sheer number. The pages make life tangible, trackable, imparting a meaning that can be hard to infer without the distance of time. And if there’s anything we writers crave more than finding meaning in the nothingness, I haven’t seen it.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with shorter forms of writing to try to capture some of these singular moments, lightly fictionalize them, and craft them into something that can be shared. I’m seeking not so much to document the event itself as the thing that’s underneath. The reason why the memory has stuck around. For me there’s a resonant memory-thread of attacks on my character, which some part of me seems unwilling to tolerate. The time I was accused of lying when I wasn’t. Another time when I was. Moments when my lack of education left me intellectually vulnerable, tucked into a defensive crouch. Times when someone has tried to correct my social conscience, or accused me of hypocrisy, or informed me that the thing I just laughed at was not funny, forcing me to swallow a retort instructing that person to remove the stick from her ass. You know what I’m talking about. Punctuation marks in the run-on sentence of life.

What’s one of yours?

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