A writer friend and I were walking recently and discussing the challenge of writing about deeply personal experiences. We agreed that writing about the important events or people in our lives was a way to unpack and understand them better. That was good. On the other hand, maybe certain things shouldn’t be written about because bringing them out into the light of day might take them from the sacred to the mundane, and even cheapen them to some degree. We’d have to rely on words and sentences, and perhaps we’d be misunderstood or the depth of our feelings wouldn’t be conveyed. As writers we weren’t sure how to approach this, how to use writing to crack open our lives so that we might investigate and share them, but not deaden them or turn them into sound bites.
It reminded me how careful I’d been when my husband and I decided to split up after 26 years, about the language I chose to talk and write about it with. Before I even started telling people, I realized that the words I chose to tell the story with would get replicated and used again and again, by me. Words would be strung together to become sentences, and sentences would be strung together to become the story. And then the story would be “the way it was,” which would only be a slice of what was actually true. I wanted to be mindful of that. I wanted to remember that 26 years with another person couldn’t and shouldn’t be reduced to a short, pithy paragraph, an explanation.
But then, we’re writers, so we have no choice but to choose the very best words that we can, at any given moment. Maybe it’s the framing of these stories that needs to be re-approached. I realize that one of the big offerings I make for people is to help them tell true stories. And yet, as my friend and I walked, I realized that the best we can do at any given time is to show up with mere slices of what we know to be true — and maybe it’s as simple as holding them like that. Not as “truth” per se, but as our understandings of the way things are in the moment. I’m not sure if this is taking us off the hook as writers, or just giving us more room to explore – – even the deepest, most personal stories, the ones that will take a life time to understand and find words for.