Wednesday, February 10, 2016

If You Don't

If you don't write down whatever you know–without telling any lies or concealing the truth with embellishments–then I'll never be able to understand what happened. At this point, of course, neither you nor I have very many years left, and it seems to me that just as we want to live the rest of our lives honestly, without resorting to lies, you would want to write that way, too... for the rest of your days.

- Kenzaburo Oe, The Changeling

* * * 

It is my belief that words seek us out: books, songs, snips of conversation overheard, an off hand remark. Whether it is the words themselves who do all the work or if our ears are somehow tuned to listen for the next thing, the thing we need to hear, or the thing we must remember that we heard or saw, the fact is when our ears and eyes are open we find the very thing we didn't know we needed, but now cannot imagine doing without. Oe's passage about honesty and the crawl of time and the work that remains unstrung me.

* * *

You, my best beloved, are the only one who can tell the story so I can understand what happened. You cannot lie or embellish or withhold any portion of the story you have to tell for that will change it into something else, something other than the truth. It may be beautiful, pleasing, dramatic, sorrowful, but it won't be the truth. For us, the truth is our only tonic. There is no one else to do this work.

We live inside patterns of habit writ across culture, society, familial reckonings and finally in the darkest hour before dawn as we lie awake and listen to our blood moving inside us. We are habituated to patterns for they make much of life knowable, manageable and it carries us along. Yet, these patterns, these habits, these necessary accommodations also serve to round off our edges, blur our vision and shorten our reach. For many this is no crisis, but proof of their wisdom to fall in line and get the rewards that are promised for doing so. It is easy to re-write memory to conform to this story, to imagine that yes, yes, I have always wanted to work for 40 years in the insurance game. Perhaps this is so for a few, but not for you, right? It is this sense of unease with the habits and patterns of culture and family and the ones you've created for yourself by default that has you fucked and stuck and wondering about your place in the world.

Time is ceaseless and the time to be who and what you are–honestly, without self-flagellation or hubris–is limited to this very moment, the successive moments you have to choose how you will navigate the next steps.  If you don't tell this story it doesn't get told, it leaves no trace, no memory for someone else to happen upon and hear just what they need to hear in order to tell their story.

This work is not just for you, but for those who follow after.

* * *

But we stumble over what the truth is, eh? How can memory be trusted? How can we be certain that the story we tell isn't self-serving, or a type of vendetta, a lie clothed in half-truths to ease ourpainourguiltourcomplicity? You can't be certain. You can't trust memory. There's no arbiter of truth. There's just you and the willingness you bring to bear to be as honest as you are capable of. Withholding the story, the writing down, the gift you have because it isn't perfect is cowardice and a betrayal of the life in your veins. This cult of absolute truth, of being right, righteous is a cult of death. It says: don't hope on this side of the grave, your imperfect mind, imperfect life has no place to speak. 

That is exactly wrong.

It is our imperfection, our failings, the faultiness of our memories and the scars we bear that make us worthy of the story we can tell. Waiting until all the sins have been washed away is to wait for life to be washed away. You are here, love, among us, struggling with us, just like us, and we need to hear from you, we need to hear your story told as honestly as you can, without lies or embellishments.


Because it is how we are emboldened to take another step, to try again to express the life in our veins, the blood we listen to late at night. It is the communion and connection we crave to feel less alone. It is who we are.

* * *

Of course, this has nothing to do with writing anything down, unless that is who you are. It is solely about how you live the rest of your days. The willingness to be honest with yourself, with others, about the road you've traveled does not come easily. We have too many mistakes in judgment, too many tragedies, too many losses, too few moments of peace to want to recall them all. But living honestly does not require a recitation of your crimes (real or imagined). Instead, it requires one thing only: for you to know the road you've traveled and to act from that knowledge. It will make you kinder, gentler with yourself, with others. It will warn you against those who misunderstand their own experience. It will free you from the burden of having to carry your losses as a curse, an albatross. It will transform you from what you were into who you are.

There aren't very many years left and it seems to me that just as Oe suggested, we should live honestly, without resorting to lies–about ourselves and the road we've come. And whatever work it is we do, whatever tasks we've set for ourselves (to write, to feed our children, to teach, to build homes, to plant trees, to grow food, to dance, to graduate from college, to ease the fears of the dying) we should work that way, too... for the rest of our days.

* * *

I wish you well.


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