05 May, 2011

Connecting the Shards

“I write because writing helps bring life into clearer focus and give shape to what I might otherwise experience as disconnected shards.” – Joyce Thomas

I read the above quote in my latest writing magazine and practically hummed out loud in my attraction to it. The urge to write for me is a primordial need I have to make sense of experiences that often come to my mind in pieces. Certainly in the case my daughter’s birth, the pieces of a fifty-four hour labor are disconnected. And yet, long as the labor was and the outcome bloody as it was, I don’t use warfare metaphors to discuss that birth or write about my body as a battlefield, or even discuss the experience in sharp-terms images like shards. I have a choice in how I give shape to that experience.
Still, being cut open has made me feel at times like I have two parts of a body, and writing about that experience has been so far the best work I’ve done that’s allowed me to connect the two parts. As a former teacher once said, "if you write it down, it can't own you." For me, writing about the birth helps me own that experience, rather than it owning me. And while obviously much of the writing I’ve done about the birth has been on the blog, not all of it has been or will be written here.
People often ask, when they hear I’m a writer, “what do you write?” I answer that I write everything – poetry, fiction, non-fiction, a blog. I’ve taught all of those genres, too, and love thinking about the differences between forms because I’m a believer that form follows function. Each story demands its own structure, and each story will tell you in what form to write it. I also believe: the greater the pain behind the experience, the greater the need for precision within the form. Joyce Thomas, the writer of the above quote, begins her essay by saying the morning after she was raped at gunpoint, she wrote her very first poem. She wonders why she turned to poetry at that moment, and I’d argue the reason is because the pain was great and poetry, the most precise of forms, was the only way at that moment to connect the shards. For the same reason, that of great pain, I wrote a quite precise poem about the experience.
Certainly, a blog is a form, a step up from journal writing but a few steps down from creative non-fiction, and lower still than fiction and poetry. For me, the blog form generates ideas and keeps the engine of creativity greased when all I have time for as the stay-at-home mother of a toddler is to start the engine just to keep the gnawing mice out rather than actually driving anywhere. And, I write here because the blog is a public forum, which allows interaction and, hopefully, a chance to help a few other people.
Recently, I changed the name of this site, getting rid of the old address, which included my name, and perhaps losing in the process a few readers who only knew how to get to the blog via that old address. I hope those readers find their way back here if what they need to read about is recovering from a cesarean while mothering and keeping a semblance of a creative self. But the reason I changed the name was because, as a writer, being a long-labored, unwanted c-section mother is not all I write about and I didn’t want my writerly identity to be only associated with those experiences. I have a lot more to write about.
The other question people ask when hearing I’m a writer is “what do you write about?” That question is quite a bit more complicated and I’m sure there’s not one answer any writer could give, although as some famous writer once suggested (write a comment if you know the answer!), each writer writes the same story over and over. When I taught writing classes, particularly creative writing classes, one of the first exercises I’d do with students is to have them write a one or two word “top ten” list of topics they thought were important to write about, topics that would excite them and get their engine greased. They’d come up with weighty subjects like the environment, God, being a mother or father, daughter or son, and sometimes less weighty subjects like cars or video games. Still, every subject has potential for deeper exploration, and certainly can be honed down into a story. When I did that exercise, I often wrote “human relationships” as my number one topic, so I guess that’d be my answer to “write do you write about.”
This blog is a place where I can write about my relationship to myself with this new-ish moniker of “mother,” and my relationship to a fabulous daughter, and my relationship to other mothers in this sisterhood I’ve joined. But as a writer, I need more space and more forms to write about all the other human relationships that interest me – those of fictional characters, or real-life teachers or, of late in my poetry, archetypal creatures who are straight out of myths. All the writing allows me to connect pieces of my life. And I’m grateful not only that I have this primordial need (because I’d argue we all have a need to express our “top ten” list), but I’m grateful I have, most of the time, the wherewithal to abide to that need and act accordingly. And I wish the same wherewithal for you. May the disconnected shards of your experiences find a form by which to connect.

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