Thursday, October 31, 2002

Counting Down

In just over three hours, NaNoWriMo starts. Time to get those words out of my head and onto the page. And to keep hitting Save every couple of minutes. Wretched old Word just crashed and took half a page with it.

I was talking about the difference in the way I feel tonight and the way I felt last night. Now I’m feeling the same tightening focus that I felt when I acted in college as I got ready for a performance. Last night — well, last night I hit a wall.

It had been a long rough day at work, and I was concerned about how I’d handled some issues. I stopped for dinner on the way home. I let myself relax: ate slowly, read a little, took time to think. When I got back out to the truck, though, it started. Who was I kidding? I wasn’t going to write 50,000 words. I probably wasn’t going to write any. This was going to be another failure.

Within minutes I was flung into the far past. Helpless, crying, couldn’t speak. I wanted to die.

There’s no way to write from that place, because it’s preverbal. I can go there, I can bring back memories, and I can try to explain it, but it’s always going to be an explanation. Not the place itself, or who I am there: helpless, suffering, self-loathing, with only death as a possible escape. These are flashbacks, the exact equivalent of the veteran who crosses Fifth Avenue and finds himself in a rice paddy with helicopters raining fire on him. In my flashbacks, I am little, helpless, terrified, and longing for death. I’ve failed again. I can never get it right. The early rape and violence would be bad enough to live through over and over; the self-betrayal, helplessness, and self-loathing are a thousand times worse.

But my writer’s mind, observing, saw something there, and gave me a rope to climb back. Just as my writer’s mind, all those years ago, said: Make it into a story. Tell yourself stories to get through the bad times. Remember this and tell it later. Stories will help you survive. You have to live to tell the truth.

That’s the geas upon me: I have to live to tell. Almost as strong is the other one, the curse: Don’t tell anyone what goes on in this house.

Speaking of my childhood — the fear, suffering, violence — is not self-indulgence. It’s an act of defiance, and it takes courage. Breaking the curse of silence is terrifying. I expect to be killed for it. Or to be forced into that place where death is a gift.

Live. Speak. Write. Tell the truth. I'm going to die anyway. Let me first speak the truth.

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