“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
— Flannery O’Connor
All weekend I have been battling with my writing class assignment. The result has been that not one word has been written. It promises to be a very intense piece of work (visceral is the word the instructor used) and I am likely going to have to work it and re-work it. So far I have been writing light works for my blogs, little bites of my day. It has been a forward-looking journey charting a new course through lands hitherto unknown and filled with optimism.
Not so my writing class homework. This promises to be a visit to the murky swamps of my memories. And I admit it freely here – I am intimidated. The assignment for this week is that I take a childhood memory and re-write it in the voice of my childhood. Three pages.
Writing about the past is something I have never practiced. Not about my past anyway. I don’t mind brief visits to other people’s ponds. But much like I don’t like the idea of going to a psychologist to dig through the silt and make a new decision on what happened in the past I have a strong resistance to sifting through on my own for sources of fiction.
You would swear I had skeletons in my closet!
A big part of what scares me is the burden of protecting the people in my life from the magnifying glass. It scares me to have to examine each character closely and make a decision on them. It scares me to show the decision I have made to them. They lived in my life un-rehearsed, un-varnished and would never have guessed when I was growing up alongside them that one day I would open my veins and bleed out my secrets, which are shared secrets and therefore their secrets, through a pen. The rye words exchanged, the events we pushed into the past in order to still be able to relate today, the wrongs we have worked hard to forget and survive.
I struggled to identify a childhood memory that wasn’t in some way tainted by one of these secrets. The drama that belonged to the adults affected how we children would be allowed to relate – where we went, who came over, what could and could not be discussed with whom. In the end I found some untainted memories in our neighbourhood, things shared with my brother and our friends, but most of them I had to really fight through the mire to get to.
Without even beginning to write I see how enormous an impression adults leave on children. A theme for the story of my life. The fears and the fierce love of our protectors and the way they fought for us or over us during the days of our childhood – the prickly hedge that kept us sheltered from the world.
Having already admitted to my commitment phobia, I am going to apply my own advice to this problem. I have a problem – I am terrified of writing for this class. My goal is to complete every assignment from the heart for this class. And you, the reader of my blog, I ask to hold me accountable. If by Friday each week for the next five weeks I haven’t mentioned it, this means I am avoiding it. Please kick my rear into gear.