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.
So beautiful + true! Was just thinking about this too, how even if we aren’t publishing our writing, our words (stories) can start taking shape into beliefs, harden into fact… Love this conversation!
I love the slices aspect. It’s like in using slices, we’re leaving room for the possibilities.
I feel liberated by “the slice.” It gives me breathing space to see which part of the story needs to be told and which part needs a more private space in which to develop and grow. I love what you say about “truth” being our understandings of the way things are in the moment. So often it’s the writing that helps me find my truth.
So well said~ I thought this so much after my own divorce and also how we shape our stories period. LOVE!
Laurie: I so respect and appreciate your honesty. Having this modeled to me helps me open doors to things I never would have thought I could explore on the written page.
Keep up your great coaching and witnessing!
Aloha to you and all of those Wild Writers and future Wild Writers!
So glad you wrote about this! Beautifully stated, and yes, the slices are a perfect “way in” to begin expressing and unpacking our most personal experiences. Especially when we are still working through them and it’s hard to find the right words….Love it. Xxxxooo
Laurie, You were thinking of me when you wrote this, weren’t you? Probably not. But it spoke to me very directly.
As I write a “memoir” of my son’s life and suicide, I repeatedly ask myself, “Is this the way I want his story to be told, to be retold, and to be remembered? Am I telling THE truth, or just MY truth? (Does it matter as long as I cop to it?) Do I wish he could be telling the story himself? (You betcha!) Is it even necessary for others to hear it, or should the fact that I’ve put it into words for myself suffice?” And finally, “How can I possibly do justice to this chunk of reality that was his life, and mine with him, and his choice to end it, and my coming back from that loss?” I’m constantly afraid of taking what is – indeed – very sacred and making it mundane. But I don’t want to idealize him either; he was human, after all. And as his mother, I left something to be desired as well. I want to tell THAT story, while at the same time holding us both in a compassionate embrace.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve taken on too much. Jesus, how can ANYone get that right?? And then I think, “Well, someone might as well try. Why not me?”
I totally resonated with the idea of “slices” of our stories that we can tell through our writing and that they aren’t necessarily “true,” but “our understanding of the way things are in the moment.” I liked the idea that there are many more slices out there. It made me think about writing about “a” truth rather than “the” truth. I know my “truths” about innumerable parts of my life certainly have changed with time and perspective. I’m not sure we can ever fully understand “the” truth about anything. So, if we cannot pin down “the” truth about any one story, then perhaps we can free ourselves from the idea that we must write it.
Remember when I took my first class with you, even if you don’t, I do. It was Feb/March of 2005. I was still fresh with my divorce and I had just finished a year of breast cancer treatment. My slices were angry. My story of how it all ended was ugly. Those slices I shared in class never went anywhere. They were really just between you and me. Me mostly. These days, Wow…12 years AFTER my divorce my truth is very different today than my angry truth of 2005. What happened is and was true. How I felt when it happened was true in that moment. Where I am now is a much different story, but true all the same.