Posted by: scintillatingspeck | March 14, 2013

The morass and the mountain-top.

Since I wrote that last story about theater camp, and thinking back also to another painful but significant memory of my teenage self, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on my ever-shifting relationship to my own stories.  How is this relationship evolving?  How does it intersect with others’ evolving perceptions, such as those of my family, old friends, new friends, and people I don’t know at all but who read my words?

There was a time when I would have viewed painful memories as simply a morass, a place to get sucked down into muck, a reminder of my own “failings,” a vehicle for assigning blame, a strangely addictive experience similar to pressing on a bruise to find out if it still hurts.  It’s not just in the remembering, but in the narrating of the story to others, in allowing others to see the bruised spirit.  In broaching the topic of wondering how much I should reveal of myself, it keeps surprising me how often people respond by saying something like, “Be careful; be guarded; write only for yourself at first, then edit your thoughts before presenting them; don’t set yourself up to be vulnerable.”  I understand.  The stories are flinch-worthy, frequently.  They certainly make me flinch.  Could the stories be used against me?  Well, sure.  In fact, I’m fairly certain that I’ve alienated some percentage of my acquaintances/friends, although most of them are not brave enough to tell me.  (I can think of several notable exceptions, however, and I’m still appreciative of their honesty.)  But alienation is not the point, although it is a risk.  The point is connection.

How am I supposed to connect, the pursuit of which dominates my most-cherished values and goals, without letting people know my stories?  How else can I cultivate compassion, without plumbing my own reservoir of struggle, confusion, and pain?  We are all bruised and brilliant, whole and broken, shaking in our boots, courageous beyond measure.  That’s where I want to meet people, and myself: it’s a morass, and a mountain-top, all at once.  I want to know people’s stories, and have been granted these gifts quite a lot lately.  I haven’t failed to be filled with fascination, tenderness, and awe in the face of these stories, and I invite them, again, from all of you, whether written or spoken or painted or your medium of choice, whether public or private, however they manifest.

For my own part, I’m gaining clarity on my own storytelling process.  I’m realizing that to some degree, it’s important to me to be heard.  Writing in a private journal isn’t going to cut it; I need witnesses, and I need the connection, complete with all the risks that entails.  At the same time, not all stories can be shared equally; for those stories that include others in my life, who want their privacy maintained, I must respect that privacy.

It’s a bit easier to return to the stories from decades ago, in that sense, I suppose.  (Not easier for my parents, who suffer along in reading these essays, and who are still very much a part of my life.  They understand, though, the impetus driving me to write, and they have valiantly endured the struggle of witnessing my words and my life as a whole, complete with the errors of interpreting their actions.)  The immediacy of those events has abated, although they persist in my interpretation of my self-hood.   But who am “I”?  Am I the same person?  Are you?  Could any of us ever be the same?  Could any of us ever be separate from each other?  This is one distinct shift I’ve observed in myself: my interpretation of the self as strictly individual and self-contained has broken down quite a bit.  I can’t see the edges between us so much, anymore.  Or rather, I see them, and I see that they’re an illusion.  When I tell my stories, when I practice openness, when I reveal more than I “should,” who am I revealing them to, if not my vast, extended family, all my relations?  Are we not just like that giant mycelium in Oregon, different fruiting bodies of the same organism?  Does not this pattern repeat itself out to the very limits of knowledge and perception?

In remembering that experience at theater camp, I was struck by the way I’ve integrated it into my current perceptions.  It’s no longer an event to be erased or reviled.  In many ways, I was fortunate to have that experience, both in a conventional sense (I had the privilege of having parents who wanted me to fulfill my talents, and had the funds to arrange such a thing) and in less-recognized ways (experiencing loneliness, depression, and struggle have made me who I am, so I’d rather not trade in my life experience, thanks).  Sometimes I want to gather up that 14-year-old self and talk to her, reassure her, tell her she’s not alone, and other times I rest solidly on the side of knowing that she’s not separate from me or anyone else, she’s right here, I’m telling her right now.  I’m telling her and I’m telling all of you.  You’re not alone.  You suffer.  That’s how it goes.  Let it be.  Keep breathing.  What a wild ride.  Lean on me.  We are not separate.  Each moment is whole and perfect in its imperfection.  Lean into acceptance.  Here we are.



  1. YES! Yes, and Yes, and YES.

    Think of the clear knowledge that child had/has, and the courage. Of course I’d be glad to spare her some of the bitterness of that predatory atmosphere, but not at the cost of the spine you grew–the ability to listen to your gut, finding out the NO that lives there, to steer by, and the BS detector about phoniness and shallowness and meanness.

    How do I remember not to regret what I did between ages 17 and 21, that I would now regard as errors, and would tell myself, ‘oh, honey, you don’t have to do that, you don’t really want to’–but it all ends up with the life and love I have now, so really I can regret none of it.

    Have you ever thought you could hear messages from your future self–in the midst of the roiled tales of my life fifteen and twenty years ago (so I’m feeling the anniversaries especially sharply this year) I used to be aware that in fifteen or twenty years, I’d think about those things as the Romans used to say, “Someday, perhaps, it will be pleasant to remember even these things…”
    And it is, bittersweetly; wouldn’t have missed it for the world, though sometimes I thought the pain would undo me.

    Look on yourself, dear friend, with the compassion of your 60-year-old self, as you now feel tenderly for three decades ago.

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