Fork in the road

Writers, like everyone else, struggle to escape their past. It could be in the form of memories or people or “stuff,” but we want to get away from it. Maybe because it reminds us of our failures, or lost hopes and dreams, or simply a period of life in which existence was truly miserable

Spoons and a fork

The spoons belonged to my Grandma, and the fork to my Aunt Mary. Photo by Karla Tipton.

But writers, to do their jobs, have to draw from something to put an honest sentence, paragraph and story to the page. That something is the stuff they most want to escape – demons that, although specific to them, are at the same time universal.

Demons make great copy.

Some demons caught up with me recently, at last bringing the phrase, “my wounds are open for the sake of art,” home to me in a way other than intellectual.

Although I’ve been a writer for many years, and can draw from my highs and lows, pain and pleasure, for the sake of a story as well as the next scribe – I’ve never really had that “lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice” moment that Stevie Nicks writes about in her song “Gypsy.”

For a writer, it’s that moment she realizes she has a story to tell – not a story to entertain, or for use of escape. A story that sings like the angels.

But a story that’s going to require some bloodletting. Not a romance or a mystery or a horror novel, but a story that falls into that crazy narrow definition of “literary.” And it’s probably not going to have a happy ending. At the least, it’ll have an ambivalent one.

Bloodletting. Opening some wounds for the sake of art. Falling into a river of emotional blood that might carry me to a place so dark I’ll never escape it.

What people who write memoirs go through to visit the places of their lives no one should have to walk through twice.

True catharsis.

It is (at least as far as the New York Times Book Review section goes) the thing that separates an artist from a hack. Or at least, a career novelist.

I’ve gone into the crypt of misery so deep before I almost didn’t return to the living. It was a dark place that I’ll have to return to, if I’m to do this thing.

This literary thing.

I don’t know if I can. I’m not sure I have the courage.

But it’s as if fate is whispering in my ear, and I can’t turn it away.

I’m at a fork in the road and it’s decision time. I’ll be a different person if I come out in one piece on the other side of this project.

I don’t know if I can survive the honesty.

4 thoughts on “Fork in the road

  1. “Writers, like everyone else, struggle to escape their past.”

    I’ve long suspected I’m fundamentally out of step with the world. Why on earth would it be a truism that everyone wants to escape his or her past? (I accept that it seems to be one.) I love and value my past, though I don’t wish to go back to it. I enjoy the good memories and am glad the bad memories are just that. 🙂

    • You’ve got me there. It was an easy lead, and only partially true. I want to escape *some* of my past. It’s not the earliest or the most recent, but some of the bits in the middle. But that lead sentence got me into the topic quickly.

  2. and ….

    What people who write memoirs go through to visit the places of their lives no one should have to walk through twice.”

    In my experience most memoirists are narcissists. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a story to tell that’s worth reading, but I don’t buy that they’re suffering through their memories. They’re reveling, and thinking you should too.

    That said – WRITE IT. If it’s inside you telling you to write it, write it.

    • For me, though, it would be painful at times. Which is why I am ambivalent. I really *don’t* want to relive some things. But I think there are benefits. Writing about something painful imposes order on it, and it seems to make some sense through the writing process (even if it’s only artistic sense). There’s a cathartic effect. And it could make a good story. There are bad things. One of these is writing about people who wouldn’t appreciate being written about. Especially those I’ve mended fences with. I’m not so keen on cannibalizing my life story at the expense of others. I’m talking myself out of this, aren’t I?

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