The Wheat And The Chaff Of Memory

On Saturday night I did a reading at The Moonstone Arts Center in Philly for  The Women's Writing and Spoken Word Series hosted, originated and organized by  Cassendre Xavier. You should check out her site and order some of her lovely music.  If you need a jolt of positivity you're sure to find it there.


It's always hard for me to decide what to read but since this was focused on multi-genre writing, I decided to read "Breathing" and some poetry about how women deal with domestic abuse. I am always happy to share my stories and many times wish other people had shared their stories with me during that dark time.  I picked poems to go along with "Breathing" because I realize, for me, being in a violent relationship didn't necessarily begin as an adult. I learned this behavior from when I was very young.  

I got to thinking about this the day after the reading. And, unfortunately, as usually happens when I tell my story, I started to get depressed; no, angry. Not angry because of what I have lived through but because I can be toppled from where I am in the present and plunged into a state of mind in the past by otherwise everyday events that seem to have nothing to do with my childhood. A seemingly simple nudge begins to burrow into me and the memory flush overwhelms me. I begin to feel as though no time has passed and the line between then and now narrows uncomfortably. These are the seeds of my writing. I know this. But I also know that these are the experiences that have shaded and colored my reactions and sometimes over reactions to the world around me.


I may not have ever become a writer were it not for these experiences; which many people see as a good thing. But I have to admit that sometimes I feel as though I am basing my whole life, especially my writing,  on reactions that manifest as odd phobias. For instance: if you ever come to my house, you will find four mirrors in my entire house, all of which are in bathrooms except for the full length one in my home office that is usually tucked behind a door. I will never have a mirror in a room where I sleep. I will always sleep with a light and usually a television on all night. I will NEVER sleep in a room with a doll in it and if there is a doll in it, I will have my husband take said doll out of the room. Oh, and don't even try to put it in my closet; I'll think about it being there all night. I sleep with  bedroom, closet and bathroom doors shut.


These day to day habits sound silly when I put them here in black and white. I know none of these change anything. I know my mind has created these rituals for me from childhood to make me feel safe. I know that mirrors are reflective glass and not a portal to another dimension. I know that it's silly that I am afraid of dolls. Knew it every night when I took my daughter's walking doll, put it in a box, taped it, locked it in a metal cabinet and then locked the closet door. These are funny stories to tell at gatherings when everyone has had a few drinks. And, I have to admit, I do laugh at myself and the silliness of these phobias.  I have lived with them since I was so young I can't remember when they started. And if you have a long night and a good bottle of wine we can talk about bridges, tunnels and the sheer terror a certain kind of city dwelling bug can stir up in me. 


So my question becomes this: if this is the wheat and chaff of my writing is there a way to get the rich, golden wheat without being bruised, scratched and bloodied by all this chaff? Can we really have well rounded and honest essays and memoirs (and for me, poetry) if we only look at the sun gilded tips of the wheat and not the bugs and dirt at the root?


I do find it easier to write about my experiences. I have been mentored by some amazing teachers in the craft of creating something else from the memory; choosing the distance you want to stand from your material; and choosing to see the poem or story as a little child that takes on a life of its own after inception. But when I talk to someone after I read and see that look in their eyes, we are the same. Distance, healing, understanding fly right out the window.  We become two women connected by the same bruise.


I stood in front of that group on Saturday night and said "I want you to see a survivor standing here. I want you to know you can get from there to here." But when she came up to me at the end of the night, we just looked at each other. I had nothing I could say. But I understood so much more; felt so much more than what I had already shared. It was then that I began to understand that this laceration will always rip open when it sees itself in another women's eyes.