Friday, December 28, 2007

Painful Retellings

What does it mean to generate a politics around telling experience when experience is precisely what the person may want to forget? Beverley Skeggs

Last night, my exercise in memoir writing became complicated. These stories that you have been reading here came from my exploration of the memoir format. I wanted to know what conventions come through the writing even when the writer is self conscious about those conventions. The experience defintely took a narcissitc quality of enjoyment as I relished in just story writing. But last night something went wrong. No not wrong. Perhaps amiss is a better word.

In the other tellings, I have been able to imagine a distance between the self typing and the self in the memoirs. The told self was very much a ficitional creation, and this enabled me to while expessing pain to not really feel it. There was an ability to concentrate on the writing itself. I focused on not just the story but the crafting of the story. Last night that all feel apart.

You see, I think I told something that I didn't want to tell. Each sentence I wrote just sunk me deeper into a kind of darkness of memory. I could still, 26 years later remember all belief I had in anything good disappearing. I remembered being so afraid as my mother wailed and moaned in that dark room. She didn't seem human to me at that point. We were already damaged people, and the damage my father inflicted that night broke us, I think. I don't think any of us ever recovered. We carry fresh scars from that morning. There are different ways to be broken.

But the story I wrote last night was not pretty nor even good. As a work of art it sucked. And I think it is because I told a story that I could not tell. A story that is not a story to me. It is a moment in my history that is like a nuclear explosion. I don't know why I told it. Why I even tried. I think perhaps it is because I thought that this is how one heals. You tell these painful things. You string them into pretty baubles for others to devour. Once you can write them, I thought, they no longer have potency on you. You turn their poison onto others.

Of course this raises some questions for me in terms of my academic work. I found myself laying in my bed last night nearly paralyzed in misery. All the feelings of my dad's leaving, the events that occured afterwards, all of it just pressed me down. And I looked at the bedstand where Palmer's book was and thought "Shit, her life was by far worst than mine. How did she do it?" Why do we tell these stories? What motivated her to put this work out? To create these stories (for that is what they are...memory is an unreliable thing) out of her pain, anger, and sorrow? What are the politics that moitivate us to make our emotional world into


John B-R said...

"But the story I wrote last night was not pretty nor even good. As a work of art it sucked. And I think it is because I told a story that I could not tell."

Ginger, do you think art is about telling pretty stories? I'm guessing that you don't, that you8 know: Art is always about telling stories one can't tell. It's about going into the danger zone.

Everyone's danger is different, of course. And not everyone lived your misery. I'm not suggesting you should make yourself miserable, nor make art, nor do anything you don't want to do. I'm just saying that the way of art is somewhat like this verse from an old Peter green/Fleetwood Mac song:

I talked to God I knew he'd understand

He said sit by me I'll be your guiding hand

But don't ask me what I think of you

I might not give the answer that you want me to

"What are the politics that motivate us to make our emotional world into acts of testimony?" The politics of brother and sisterhood. Etymologically, testimony comes from the Latin for a witness. We share what we have witnessed, so we can be together in the darkness, in the light.

John B-R said...

I reread what you wrote on the 27th. Why should that EVER stop hurting? Why should anything? When I think of my ugly experiences, the only thing that happens, I think, is we grow used to the ache.

Lolabola said...

yes, yes, used to the ache. I was thinking that after reading it and thinking of my own stuff. I'm glad you wrote it though and actually thought it was well written, story style. You sound rather objective about it all, I wondered if it was your personal story or not. When I write stuff like that it's really self-indulgent, overly detailed and just confuses the heck out of the reader. (and then fills me with self-loathing and guilt or some such thing)

Jon said...

I think these two posts raise a lot of questions: one of which is whether testimonial should ever be considered art, and secondly what the function of art is. And what the function of testimony. Big things that I cannot answer.

This text, as lolabola points out, was very restrained. Careful, even. I think this is the only way you can write about personal experiences (especially traumatic ones). It's as if you can't approach them head on. (When I saw you I mean we or one or I). And this text does try, in many ways, to deal with a traumatic experience as directly as possible, although by this it ends up becoming less direct, more objective and carefully written, ie more a work of art. i know that sounds cold but I think it's a dilemma you're trying to deal with in your second post. That post effectively reattaches the first to its reality, making it more testimonial. The two go together - and honestly have more emotional impact as a pair. Together they made me think and feel far more than separately.

Yes, it is hard to tell some things. And some things maybe shouldn't be told. And the risk of stirring up old hurt is often pretty big... Is it worth it? Does it heal anything? I'm not sure it would be possible to answer those questions.

Thank you, again, for writing.

John B-R said...

Jon, you write: "one of which is whether testimonial should ever be considered art, and secondly what the function of art is. And what the function of testimony. Big things that I cannot answer."My answers (for what they're worth, which is: by responding to you, I can be with you, which is more important than whether I'm right or not):

-whether testimonial should ever be considered art: yes.

-what the function of art is: I would change function to functions. One function, which I think is relevant to this discussion, and which I think answers your 3rd question (the function of testimony), is to make us less lonely. To create, to maintain, community.

My friend (and Ernesto's friend) Eileen Tabios, who is a very fine poet, turned her blog into the diary of her father dying. There wer a lot of us who rode with her, day by day, through that hell, which of course brought us back to our own hells. To some degree, of course, her readers were voyeurs, but to some degree we were a community. Without her testimony, we were none of those things.

What could be more important these days than community?

Ginger said...

First, thank you all for reading "my poison."

Second, thank you for responding to my questions.

Third, Jon, I am not sure if it was worth it. I am in a lot of pain right now. After I wrote, I just sat there for a long time feeling like I was on the edge of an abyss. I was takne aback about how fresh this wound was. It reminded me of how sometimes, I'll have a tooth that hurts. It's fine as long I don't worry it with my tongue. But the moment I worry it...hell.

Fourth, I have a lot to say about this question of tesitmony. I have been doing a lot of reading in preparation for my thesis. I have half a post saved which I'll work on tonight.

Fifth, I love this community. I feel like I've found a home in some ways.

Anonymous said...

sometimes you just have to enjoy the tooth poke (and I really think there is a tiny tiny little enjoyment in re-experiencing such pain), remember that you also enjoy a billion other things (some of them amazing, some rather dull, and some also very painful), and then distract yourself with one of them (preferably a mundane one) before you get stuck in that abyss of cyclical tooth touching.

I'm also using the proverbial you.

I also love this community.

Lolabola said...

oh and blogger hates me again! that last reply was me.