I never kept diaries as a kid, and even today, as a devout scribbler, I find that the most trying times are the ones that are difficult to write down, in that moment, anyway. So it often becomes a shorthand of blunt sentences, enough to revisit when the crisis is over. Enough to jolt the memory, or for inspirational purposes, to fire the imagination; representing the real, I like to call it!
There are people however, some who don’t even consider themselves to be writers, who do manage to record their experiences in intricate detail, however traumatic, putting pen to paper at every point of their journey, until coming out at the other side of it. Talking to a female acquaintance recently on a rather difficult experience she had gone through, she told me that she would not have remembered or been able to describe what happened to her so vividly, had she not been writing it down as she experienced it. It was important for her to remember; to have it recorded for the future.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
So wrote Anne Lamott. An accomplished writer, her non-fiction work is greatly influenced by her own struggles, her writing best described by the author herself; “I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness—and that can make me laugh.” I posted Lamott’s quote on my Facebook page a while back, and a writer friend responded with another quote, from the late and great, Nora Ephron:
“Everything is copy.”
In the introduction to her novel, Heartburn (based on her personal experience of a marriage break-up) the wonderful Ephron elaborated further when she wrote of becoming the hero, rather than the victim of the joke. I am sure that many of us can identify with the sentiment? Not that I advocate dusting down tomes of snotty, tear-stained journals of youth and regurgitating a narrative of some exquisitely nostalgic pain-ridden experience. Nor indeed, some vengeful tale of ridicule to spite the target of your blame – though, it has to be said that all is fair in the land of fiction – so whatever floats your boat!
Recorded on paper or not, with distance, time-passing and maturity, and perhaps with a third-person narrative, stories of self can come to life in three-dimensional worlds that make meaning of experience, and hopefully generate empathy and connection with others. Removing the shield of author, and stripping away the mechanisms that hide the fragility of a human being alone, we know what we experienced, and we know how it felt. How we looked out at the world and the people in it, how we continue to do that. The difference between being a child as opposed to being an adult is that, as the former, we are powerless to our fate, and powerless to change anything. Becoming the latter enables empowerment to not only steer our own course, but more importantly, to change our ways of thinking, reacting and of just being. We can decide to be weak, or we can determine to be strong, and to analyse our past to the point of not wallowing in the soreness of it, but in recognizing how our experiences have shaped us – and perhaps, to step outside of it all, to write it out in a fictional world as we look back in; the spectator.
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. [Oscar Wilde]
For the writer’s inspiration, this is gold. For the writer’s soul, this is life.
Photograph is the copyright of Errol Farrell. 2017