I have been resisting working on my memoir the past two Sundays. I open the file and then I find all kinds of other things to do. This is not like me: I generally am very disciplined about writing and I just go in there and do it. But the past two Sundays: resistance.
Of course, because I am so disciplined, it ruins my whole day. Because I won’t back off once I open the file. There was once – only once – when I was working on the memoir that I knew I wasn’t in a good place to write that day and I took the day off. But I gave myself permission ahead of time, and I only take those sorts of days off rarely and judiciously. I do so either for the well-being of the text or for my own emotional well-being or for both. But this was not like that – this was pure, flat-out resistance. It was procrastination. It was, ‘I know I should do this, but I don’t want to.’
And so, I spent both this Sunday and last Sunday in that uncomfortable place of backing away from the text to do other things. You know the sort of things we writers do: I made really nice meals. I watered the plants. I re-arranged the items in the freezer. I futzed with the bent slats on the mini-blinds. I spent two very uncomfortable and restless and uneasy Sundays putzing around like this when I could have gone in there right away to get the work done and then headed off to the beach or the park. But, no. I spent the days pacing my apartment like a panther resisting its prey, nervous and twitchy.
And, on both days, when I finally pounced, there was reward. There was meat to be found in the words. And so then I could close out the file for another week and go my way.
But why the resistance? A wise friend asked me a very wise question this morning when I mentioned it. She said: ‘What are you working on in the memoir?’ Bingo! Thank you. What I am working on in the memoir is the entry point into the hardest and darkest heart of it. I am readying to enter the eye of the storm. And even though I know how the story ends – I know I made it through that eye – I don’t know that in the text of the memoir yet. Me as character in the text does not know how it all turns all, and a reader would have no idea, either, coming upon it cold, at this point. What happens? How does the character resolve this?
In addition, it has pulled me – the ‘character’ I am now (writer, decades later) back to that hard and difficult part of my life. In real life and in real time, I couldn’t hesitate. It was all just happening and it was happening fast and I simply had to act. I had to take action. But now, the writer part of me, decades later – I can hesitate. I can say, ‘Maybe I don’t want to take action.’ ‘Maybe I don’t want to re-enter that dark and intense realm.’ ‘Why can’t I go to the beach, instead?’ And who can blame me? However, I know that I have to do it. In order to bring order to the chaos, I have to gear up and get in there. I have to grab hold of it and wrestle it into form. If I don’t bring some order to the chaos, I will be damned to wander through the remainder of my life restless and uneasy and prickly and twitchy (it’s great fun being a writer, isn’t it?).
The good thing is: I know how it all ends. The bad thing is: I know how it all ends. It doesn’t end happily. But the other good thing is: I’ve made my peace with that, for the most part, over the years, and so I don’t have to do that particular kind of hard work again. No – the work I have to do now is to find the grace in the difficulty, the glimpses of light in the darkness, the small bit of redemption in a moment that seems to be only downward falling. I need to find the ‘lift.’ I need to find the dignity. I need to find the beauty in all of that ugliness. I do know it is there. I just have to find it and arrange it in a way that makes it clearly seen. That is my task.
When I look at it that way, I feel a bit revitalized. Inspired. Ready to take on the work.
I can do this. Next Sunday, I’m going to gear up and get right in there. There’s work to be done. There’s a challenge to be met. And I’m the only one who can meet this particular challenge: It’s my story. My challenge.