Thursday, December 2, 2010

We Are Made

We are made of story only. We are narratives projected backwards and forwards through time (the length of our lives, the length of our memories, the length of collected, collective memories held in books, records, all media). Our projected stories overlap, resonate or are dissonant with other stories and we form our various identities based on these agreements, disagreements and mis-understandings both benign and cruel.

So what story do you tell? What sort of story are you? To be fucked is to not know your own story and/or to take no responsibility for the telling of your story. It is the difference between an active or passive voice, i.e., "Would you care to meet me for drinks?" vs. "Meet me for drinks."

* * *

My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born. Instead, they returned to Ireland when I was four, my brother, Malachy, three, the twins, Oliver and Eugene, barely one, and my sister, Margaret, dead and gone.

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious devoted mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.

Above all - we were wet.

- Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes

* * *

As the authors of our lives, even if you are having your's ghost written, we are all unreliable narrators. But we are all we've got so we accept the limits of our memories and color in those parts we've forgotten (on purpose? who can tell?) with such detail as to hold our larger narrative together. I have told, written, re-told and re-written of my experiences with Fr. Damien at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane dozens of times and each time I know the details shift, the language I use is modified by time and purpose, but always I believe I am telling the truth. Perhaps not facts, but truth(s). And my comfort with the variances, the changes large and small in the language, in my re-telling becomes part of the story as well.

* * *

It is like a bottomless well. Does all this looking down make you dizzy? It does me. So let's light a scrap of paper, and drop it down into that well. It will fall slowly, deeper and deeper. And as it drops it will light up the sides of the well. Can you see it? It's going down and down. Now it's so far down it's like a tiny star in the dark depths. It's getting smaller and smaller...and now it's gone. Our memory is like that burning scrap of paper.

- EH Gombrich, A Little History of the World

* * *

Jung wrote that his life's story was of the self-realization of the unconscious (his, and I suppose, the collective as well). That bit of light from the burning scrap of paper floating down the well of our personal history only casts a pinprick of light - the rest is unformed darkness. To be alive, to engage the tasks and purposes that life continually puts in front of you is to bring light and form to that darkness - to determine the exact shape of your life, your story. It is the story of Jung's self-realization. Given that we are narrative creatures it is more than permissible to create fictions about your life; it is, in fact, required.

Not lies, but fictions. My re-telling of Fr. Damien hearing my confession, talking to me under the Ginko tree all happened and are all true. When I write it out it cannot help but become a fiction, for the reportage of experience does not replace experience. What was true happened. What I write about is a useful and necessary fiction.

If you are fucked you either obsess over "fact" or simply allow others to define your life. If there is going to be a story told anyway, why don't you tell it yourself?

* * *

In John 1:1 it says, "In the beginning was the Word..." To Christians that "word" is Christ, but strip out the religion. The word in Greek is "logos." Viktor Frankl uses this term as the basis of his Logotherapy, or meaning-based therapy. Your word, your logos, is the story of your life - fucked or not. Remember Gombrich's burning scrap of paper? John 1:5 reads: "And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

That is how you unfuck your life, my friend: confound the darkness with your light.

Tell your story, or it will be told for you.


No comments:

Post a Comment