No Place to Hide

It’s human nature to save the worst for last, right? At least when it comes to writing the hard stuff. I’m finishing up the first draft of my first memoir. It’s about the darkest period of my life, a time I haven’t wanted to revisit. Now I’m bringing it all out into the light. I’ve always hated who I was back then. Now I want to understand that young woman and give her the love and compassion she deserves. Unfortunately the only way to get there is to step back into that darkness. So, of course, I left the most painful memories for the last of the chapters to be written.

As I settle into my favorite writing spot – the chair next to the window at the end of the dining room table – I place my feet flat on the floor to ground me. Taking a deep breath I begin to write as I ease myself into the memories. As soon as an uncomfortable one begins to surface, my mind skitters away from it and I feel an overwhelming need to flee. I jump up from my seat and start pacing. Too many emotions to sort out constrict my chest, my mind is locked down tight – a vacuum where no thoughts can intrude.

After several minutes my mind relaxes. I’m able to convince myself to sit down and at least complete the unfinished sentence on the page. I might even string a few more words together before the next part of the memory arises. Again, my mind runs and hides as I drop my pen, jump up and begin to walk – circling the kitchen island, over to the front door where I peer unseeingly through the half circle of glass at the top, down the hallway and back. Rinse and repeat. Finally calmer, I sit back down and pick up my pen.

It’s in this fashion that I am able to create the first layer of the draft. It’s all narrative – no scenes, no dialog, no reflection – just relaxing my nervous system enough to bleed one sentence at a time onto the page. Once the memories are written, they no longer hold the power. It’s only the excavation process that cripples me. For a while I thought I needed help. That I needed to figure out how to get around this attempt to escape, but then I realized, yes, it’s painful, but it’s part of my process. It’s the only way I’m going to finish this draft. And the good news? Most of those memories have already been unearthed. There’s not much more digging that needs to be done.

“How do you know when your heart needs encouragement? When you feel afraid, when you want to stop writing. Then you seize those feelings as if they were exactly what you have been looking for. They are your golden opportunity. That frisson of fear is a marker pointing to the very door you want to open.” ~ Tristine Rainer, Your Life as Story