Tag Archives: Authenticity

A yearly dose of The Bell Jar.

22 Dec

For the past 4 years, ever since I was 16, I have read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar around this time of year. Though I never planned to re-read it every year around the holidays, that’s just how it turned out. In all honesty, The Bell Jar is probably one of the most depressing books I have ever read, but it is also one of the most accurate portrayals of madness, or descending into madness, from a literature standpoint that I have discovered as well. I guess you could say I love it because of its psychological aspects. However, despite how depressing the novel is, there is a reason Sylvia Plath is viewed as an acclaimed poet and writer. Her words, when put together, form sentences that allow you to feel something. Granted, the feelings her words bring to light aren’t necessarily happy ones, but in all honesty, Sylvia Plath wrote about life, her life. She didn’t sugarcoat it. She didn’t pretend she was happy when she wasn’t. She threw her readers right into the darkness and the loneliness of her life and her mind, and in a strange way, it’s beautiful.

Here are some quotes from The Bell Jar I thought I’d share:

  1. “Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences.”
  2. “I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”
  3. “I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”
  4. “At this rate, I’d be lucky if I wrote a page a day. Then I knew what the problem was. I needed experience. How could I write about life when I’d never had a love affair or a baby or even seen anybody die? A girl I knew had just won a prize for a short story about her adventures among the pygmies in Africa. How could I compete with that sort of thing?”
  5. “I am sure there are things that can’t be cured by a good bath but I can’t think of one.”
  6. “Piece by piece, I fed my wardrobe to the night wind, and flutteringly, like a loved one’s ashes, the gray scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly where I would never know, in the dark heart of New York.”
  7. “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they executed the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
  8. “I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant loosing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
  9. “Secretly, in studies and attics and schoolrooms all over America, people must be writing.”
  10. “I had hoped, at my departure, I would feel sure and knowledgeable about everything that lay ahead — after all, I had been “analyzed.” Instead, all I could see were question marks.”
  11. “The sun, emerged from its gray shrouds of cloud, shone with a summer brilliance on the untouched slopes. Pausing in my work to overlook that pristine expanse, I felt the same profound thrill it gives me to see the trees and grassland waist-high under flood water—as if the usual order of the world had shifted slightly, and entered a new phase.”

Is there a specific book you make a point to read every year?

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Why we need more memoirists.

10 Nov

In the right hands, a memoir is the flecks of gold panned out of a great, muddy river. A memoir is those flecks melted down into a shapable liquid that can be molded and hammered into a single bright band to be worn on a finger, something you could point to and say, “This? Oh, this is my life.” Everyone has a muddy river, but very few have the vision, patience, and talent to turn it into something so beautiful. That is why the writer matters, so that we can not only learn from her experience but find a way to shape our own. -Ann Patchett, afterword of Autobiography of a Face

Though I do love everything about this quote from the afterword of Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, the last line of the quote is what really speaks to me. Since I am in the process of writing my own memoir, over the past few months I’ve vowed to read more memoirs to gain a greater understanding of the genre I’m trying to be a part of. Spending more time reading memoirs rather than fiction, I’ve begun to realize what’s so appealing about them. Memoirs tell the stories of people…they dive deep into the love, pain, fear, excitement, love, and joy that has filled each and every one of those stories. People love reading about people. That’s a fact. However, more than that, I think memoirs allow readers to find pieces of themselves in the memoirist, even though the understanding behind those pieces may feel unclear. Either way, those pieces, however different, provide connection…a sense of belonging that was otherwise lacking.

It may seem obvious that the desire for more memoirists in our society is strong. However, though that may be true, the fact of the matter is that writing about one’s own life isn’t easy. It’s hard. Really, really hard. It’s the process of stripping away every mask that you’ve hidden behind for much of your life. It’s what happens when you force your true self out into the harsh light of day, continually resisting the urge to look away in shame. In my opinion, writing a memoir shows vulnerability. It shows courage, strength, and every emotion that we experience throughout our lives. Through vulnerability, it shows authenticity in its rarest form, and that in itself is truly miraculous.

Through reading Lucy Grealy’s memoir, Autobiography of a Face, I’ve started to understand just what memoirists can offer. Other than providing us with the obvious pieces that connect to form a complete, living, breathing life, memoirists give us the opportunity to embrace our own vulnerabilities rather than shrinking behind them. They allow us to come face to face with the contentment that results from being able to face your past, scars and all, head on. They give us the chance to find our true selves, no matter how frightening or foreign that part of us may be. They present us with the opportunity to love ourselves, which in turn allows others to love us just as much, if not more.

Mirrored in Truth & Beauty.

5 Nov

Last night, I started reading Truth & Beauty by Anne Patchett, which is a memoir of Anne Patchett’s friendship with troubled author and poet, Lucy Grealy. Here is a synopsis according to GoodReads:

Ann Patchett and the late Lucy Grealy met in college in 1981, and, after enrolling in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, began a friendship that would be as defining to both of their lives as their work. In Grealy’s critically acclaimed memoir, “Autobiography of a Face,” she wrote about losing part of her jaw to childhood cancer, years of chemotherapy and radiation, and endless reconstructive surgeries. In “Truth & Beauty,” the story isn’t Lucy’s life or Ann’s life, but the parts of their lives they shared. This is a portrait of unwavering commitment that spans twenty years, from the long winters of the Midwest, to surgical wards, to book parties in New York. Through love, fame, drugs, and despair, this is what it means to be part of two lives that are intertwined . . . and what happens when one is left behind.

This is a tender, brutal book about loving the person we cannot save. It is about loyalty, and being lifted up by the sheer effervescence of someone who knew how to live life to the fullest.

Since starting this book, I have seen myself in Lucy Grealy. Though I have not faced what she went through, the loneliness, fear, and desire to belong are all feelings that I have known all too well. Lucy’s words throughout the novel (seen especially in the letters she writes to Ann), are heartbreaking and brutally honest, but in more than one point in the book, I have felt like the words have been taken from my own soul. Even though this is definitely not the first time that I have seen myself mirrored in the emotions of someone else, I feel like this is one of the few times that it’s been so spot on. Throughout the book, Lucy exhibits numerous times when she is down on herself due to her situation. However, that being said, she is a poet, and writing is the way that she comes back to herself. Writing and her friendship with Ann are what allow her to come back to her reality with gusto. Though I am only about halfway through the book at this point, I have found myself, on more than one occasion, clutching the book almost like a life-line, holding it close to my heart and whispering words from the novel that seem to apply to my own life.

“Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.”

When I came across the above quote, I smiled. I smiled with the realization that during certain times in my life, I too have viewed writing as a friend, as the friend who is always there, day or night, waiting to welcome you home with open arms and a carton of ice cream. Yes, the ice cream addition was my own tid bit, but it’s what writing has been for me for so long: the one thing that I can come back to, again and again, like a long-lost friend that you never seem to lose touch with no matter how much time has passed. A friend with whom you can pick up right where you left off, as if you saw them just yesterday and not years ago. Thankfully, I have had the pleasure of having more than one friend like that in my life, and it is one of the best feelings I have come to find in this life. Sure, there are other things that come close to that kind of magic, but they aren’t moments that are also full of deep conversations that last into the early hours of the morning or moments of laughing until your stomach hurts.

“That is one thing I’ve learned, that it is possible to really understand things at certain points, and not be able to retain them, to be in utter confusion just a short while later. I used to think that once you really knew a thing, its truth would shine on forever. Now it’s pretty obvious to me that more often than not the batteries fade, and sometimes what you knew even goes out with a bang when you try to call on it, just like a lightbulb cracking off when you throw the switch.”

Truth & Beauty is full of more honesty than I can only hope to achieve one day with my own memoir. It’s not even just honesty that causes you to pause and think, That’s got to be truth. Those feelings are so raw that the only place they could have come is from the deepest and most authentic part of the soul. It’s more than that, if at all possible. It’s sitting on the kitchen floor with a cup of coffee in one hand and the book in the other, staring down at the page and thinking, I can only hope that one day I am as in touch with the deep and dark parts of myself like this author is able to portray. Though I have become incredibly introspective since beginning my memoir in January, I have not reached this level of raw authenticity. To do so, I believe it takes many more months, if not years, of sitting in the dark corners of your memories patiently awaiting the day when they decide to come out into the harsh light of day. You’ve got to sit in the dark and get to know them on a level that’s more true than you’ve ever known. You must sit with them, day and night, until you know their features and ways in which they move through the world. Until your breathing matches their own with such accuracy that you can no longer tell the difference between your breaths and theirs.

“Our friendship was like our writing in some ways. It was the only thing that was interesting about our otherwise dull lives. We were better off when we were together. Together we were a small society of ambition and high ideals. We were tender and patient and kind. We were not like the world at all.”

Though I am lucky to have an incredible best friend, when I read the above passage, the first thing that popped into my head was the level of comfort that can only be achieved through a childhood friend. I thought of a friend that I have known since kindergarten, and the nights that we would lie in my bed and stare up at the ceiling, talking about our futures like they were millions of miles away. The nights that we would hold hands when we got scared in the middle of the night, only to end up burying our faces in pillows a moment later when we were overcome with laughter. We looked at each other then, smiling and breathing heavily once the laughter subsided, not even knowing what we found so funny, and yet realizing that nothing could top the happiness that had been wrapped up in that moment. It enveloped us, that pure bliss, wrapping us up like a quilt that was stitched with every happy memory of our relatively short lives. We knew, no matter what, that we had each other.

The finding place of my words.

20 Oct

“A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.”

The above quote is from Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, and when I came across it this morning while on GoodReads, it really stuck with me. Maybe it’s because I know after reading Jeanette Winterson’s memoir that she had a really tough life. Maybe it’s because I am reminded that even though I persevere and trudge on, I have a tough life. Like Jeanette, I have constantly continued to find myself not in other people or places…but in words.

However, I’m not referring to the idea that literature has acted as my only finding place. Although, I do believe that it all began with literature. At a young age, during the days that I would go inside my closet where I had pillows, blankets and a light, I’d close my closet door and pour over the words. I’d lose myself in the words that I thought only I felt: those words that signified loneliness, being different, feeling pain and not feeling like there was a place that I belonged. Over time, I found myself in those words as I realized that what I was feeling wasn’t just confined to my own situation. I saw myself mirrored in others who, though they didn’t have Cerebral Palsy, still felt some of the same emotions that I struggled with from the very beginning. Even though there aren’t necessarily specific literary characters that I remember feeling especially connected with, it never was about making specific connections. In terms of literature, many of us recognize pieces of ourselves in other characters, and the sense that we are able to relate to them on some level acts as a safety net, a blanket that keeps the cold out, even if only for a moment.

As I began experimenting with my own words and realizing that I too could express the emotions that I was feeling, my own words became my safety net. Even though other literature still had the same effect that it always did in terms of helping me to feel less alone, the discovery that I could use my own words to achieve the same effect was life-changing. Rather than immersing myself in literature that had pieces of myself woven throughout it, I created words that held every aspect of me. Instead of just bits and pieces, I was entirely present within my own words. Within my words, all the emotions were there, waiting to be uncovered. The loneliness, the fear, the pain, the tears, the feeling of being so different that there wasn’t a place that I fit. Within my own words, I made all the emotions visible. As I removed them from the dark places that they had been hiding in for so long, they became even more real. Instead of simply residing in my thoughts, they were given a heart, a way to live and breathe in an environment that was separate from me, and yet was an environment that I had completely created.

Today, not much has changed. If anything, my words have become much more authentic and honest. Instead of beating around the bush in terms of the emotions that I have felt and continue to feel, I have plunged right in. I’ve found myself spending hours sitting in the darkness of my emotions, trying to find the perfect way to give them life. Though uncovering every aspect of my emotions has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, my words continue to act as a finding place. I am the truest I have ever been to myself when I am writing. Because with words, I can’t hide. There’s nothing to hide behind. My words still reside in the place that they always have: inside me. Through giving them life and allowing them to breathe on their own, it’s as if I’m living in two places at once. I’m living my current life, but I’m also living in the words that are written down. If one day in the distant future you see a book by me on the bookshelves, I hope you find me there.