Turning Life into Art: Distance is God and Other Observations about Memoir

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Distance is god if god is objectivity.

In the moment of living an experience, we are so close, submerged in the details, that we can’t fully understand ourselves. We’re waiting for objectivity to bring with it the gift of insight.

As soon as I can stop emoting about my life I can start to understand it.

The night I was taken to Lakeview Regional hospital I rode in the back seat of Doc’s truck behind my mother whose face I could see in the side mirror as Doc, her seventh husband, drove with two determined hands on the wheel. Everyone in the cab was silent the entire drive, the way, after an ocean storm, the crashing waves subside to a gentle rhythm. I’d spent the afternoon trying to escape from Doc’s house, from my brother who’d been charged with capturing me like a wild animal. I stood at the top of the stairs and heaved my body down them heavy like a boulder. My will wasn’t enough. He caught me every time. While I kicked and screamed, he held me like a straight jacket, his arms all muscle and grace. He didn’t want to hurt me so kept me still through sheer strength, not force. I was the only storm roiling in the atmosphere that day.

When I entered the hospital through a dark stillness that seemed unnatural, I felt certain about what was making me sick and why I had to do something about it: my family, mainly my mother and oldest brother, the one who’d caged me in the truck for the long ride, needed saving. If I was a little broken, they were shattered sculptures flung out the windows. This is what I knew: My protectors hadn’t protected me, and I couldn’t save them. I could only commit myself and show them how to be sane. But first, this is what I was thinking that night: I have to unravel, to show everyone that I’m crazy. 

So here’s the bit of truth that distance has taught me: Even though I really had lost it, even though my hair was falling out and sleep evaded me and food was my only savior and sex felt like an assault, even though I would stare into the distance for great expanses of time while someone else in the room waited for me to finish a sentence and when I did the words would sound like Mad Hatter wisdom, I could feel sanity like a pearl residing in my center. I just couldn’t pull it out anymore.

Every thought was so heavy and consequential. I knew I was still alive and myself, but I couldn’t behave myself. Play myself. Performing a life requires a person to nurture layers of a psyche, and here’s the kicker: We mostly keep this up for everyone else. At least that’s true when we’re living the wrong life. I’d landed in the loony bin because I was exhausted by holding myself up for people who didn’t noticed. I couldn’t smile anymore and mean it. And the consequences of not smiling were living locked up with strangers who had also let themselves unravel. A life that was given a dozen divergent roads to travel could only choose this one. The road of escape and repair. At least that was my truth when I was twenty. I had wandered too far into the woods to find myself elsewhere.

So here’s where I need some insight from you (be brutally, godlike objective, please):

  • What, if anything, about a story such as this compels you to want to keep reading? If it doesn’t compel you, why not?
  • What do you want to know more about this narrator, her family, her illness, etc.?
  • Are you looking for answers about this narrator that relate to you, or would you rather just get a story? For instance, would you be interested to know some of the medical stuff that was going on with my girl self back then? Are you looking for some clear cause and effect resolution?
  • How much does language/style affect your desire to keep reading?

2 Comments

  • Amaris says:

    Language and style are huge influences for me when deciding whether to keep reading.

    Is the girl really throwing herself down the staircase? Or captured and caged? It seems so quick–it’s hard to know if its real or imagined.

    • JaimeRWood says:

      Good questions, Amaris! I should slow this down. There’s an author named Barry Lane who wrote a book on teaching creative writing called After The End. In it he talks about exploding moments and shrinking centuries as ways to deal with important or less important events and passages of time. He uses the example of describing spilled milk, which takes a split second to happen, in great slow motion detail. I think the day when the girl (me) is at Doc’s house should be exploded like that, especially some of the critical moments like when the brother is literally standing at the foot of the staircase holding out his hands ready to catch his sister as she throws herself down the stairs, arms flailing, throat open in a full bodied scream. He held her there like a steel hug, gentle but unmoving. Eventually, she was convinced to go to the hospital, admit herself voluntarily. But it took a full day of war before surrender. Maybe that day should be several pages long. Yeah, good questions. Thanks, Amaris.

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