Sunday, January 12, 2014

Universal Beauty

This week it occurred to me that some of the people I've always thought of as being filled with low-drama stoicism, Midwestern stiff-upper-lip types who march through hell and fire with little comment, might simply be, or have been, introverts who didn't see a need to discuss what was simply fact. It has occurred to me that because many people (even those who know me best) think of me as hyper-communicative and very extroverted, the fact that I don't talk about what I feel could be misconstrued. Often is. Hmmm. Interesting. While I always knew I needed to listen carefully to the stoic people in my life, to make sure they were okay under that stiff upper lip, I know that I do not inspire that concern in others, because I seem like the type who will holler if I need help or am unhappy. Do you have people like me in your life? People who are neither quiet nor open about what they need? Do they drive you crazy? Because I'm pretty sure this particular combination has driven several people in my life crazy.  :-)

I've been thinking about this because I am writing essays that are difficult to write and I can't make enough time for them.  I'm struggling to make room in my crowded life and my busy mind to settle at my writing table and put paragraphs on the pages, and I'm frustrated by the things that are tugging at my minutes, demanding my attention.  I want to complain, but I don't because complaining never changed a thing.  Not one.  Or has it?  As usual, what I do is double-down on tasks so I can get ahead of them.  This is a strategy that seldom works, by the way.  What works is to do the difficult and important thing, not get busy with minutiae.

Dani Shapiro, a writer who has written memoirs and fiction, recently responded to an angry Facebook fan who felt her memoir was not close enough to her chronological life.  Shapiro is a thoughtful writer, a careful writer, and the letter is worth reading.  This, however, was the section that spoke to me:
"The memoirist looks through a single window in a house full of windows. After all, we can’t look out of all the windows at once, can we? We choose a view. We pick a story to tell. We shift through the ever-changing sands of memory, and in so doing create something hopefully beautiful, by which I mean universal."

It was as though Shapiro wrote those words for me. There is no perfect version of the story that I'm trying to tell. There is no version that will include all the angles from which this experience could be seen, or felt. There is no version that will not be filtered through my flawed, imperfect lenses. The version I write will be filtered through the lenses of imperfect memory, of immense love, of pain, of loss, of anger and acceptance and the thousand other filters that each of us bring to our lives and to our memories. But if I can find my way to the truest version, when I can choose the window that will show the clearest view, when I can discipline myself to find language that is clear, that will help me share these moments with my readers--it's possible I will find my way to beauty, and truth. It is possible, and even likely, that the universality I am so certain is a part of my experience will be something I manage to share with my readers.

I've been struggling so hard with these essays. They are so important that I can't stop tripping over my desire to make them perfect. And I need to let that go and make them honest. Perfection can wait. So can laundry.

Best to all who happen this way.


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