We are the sum of all of our experiences. This is a great saying, isn’t it? Said by someone who is famous and much more clever than me. Of this, I am certain, even though I am currently too lazy to go and look up just who this clever person is. Or was. Or whatever.
No, it’s not that I’m too lazy. It’s more that I know what will happen. I will go off to find this one tidbit of information. And, in doing so, I will run across something else that looks interesting. Maybe it’s a cat picture. Or a link about a dog who learned to play chess. Of course, I will feel almost compelled to click the picture or follow the link. Before I know it, I will look up from the keyboard, realize it’s past midnight (which means my daughter has been left alone at school for a gazillion hours and I can expect a friendly visit from “the authorities” the next day), and I will have gotten nothing done all day. Because I will have allowed myself to get sucked down into the rabbit hole wonderland that is the Interwebs. No, really. This is how they get you. I think it’s a plot by the cats to take over the universe, one click at a time. Well played, cats. Well played.
The sum of all of our experiences. In theory, I like this idea that everything I have gone through, everything I have learned, everything I have seen or tasted or felt or believed, everything I have survived, everything I have laughed at … That all of it, somehow, mashes up together in some magical sort of potion that makes me the person who is, right at this moment, sitting at her desk and clacking away on her keyboard in the hopes that words will come out of all her effort. And in the further hope that these words will make some sort of sense. This is a total crap-shoot, even on the best of days. But we do our best with what we have.
I love the idea of taking the things that haunt me and using them for something else. Maybe I can even make something beautiful out of what, to me, has been utter and complete shit. As writers, isn’t that part of what we do? We internalize those experiences and brood on them and mix them together to create new characters and worlds and adventures. Because, if something good or beautiful comes out of our pain, it almost feels like the pain was worth it. Like it counted for something. I am not sure I can explain it, not really, but this feels important to me. It feels important that the pain should count for something. That it should go back out into the world transformed into something better: something beautiful or meaningful or brave. Maybe, this would mean I was in control of my own life. Yes, painful things happened to me. But those experiences don’t own me. Instead, I own them. I can make them dance at my whim.
I think this is important, too: to feel as if you are in control of your own life. I have never felt this way. I mostly feel small and afraid — a tiny, tiny speck within a never-ending universe. Insignificant and not quite really “real”. I think some writers are incredibly brave. I admire the way they do exactly the things I can’t do, which is to speak from their experiences and their dreams, even if it hurts. I am not brave at all. I started writing in order to pretend to be someone else. I wanted to be anyone other than the person I was, and writing offered that to me. I could pretend to be amazing or talented or beautiful or loved. Now, I face my second twenties without quite knowing who or what I am. I look into the mirror and don’t recognize the expression in the eyes of the person staring back at me. I want to know her. Now, I find myself no longer wanting to pretend. Instead, I want to write for the person I am today. I want to find her and hold her and tell her things are okay. I want to tell her she is okay. But I find, perhaps, I have spent too much time pretending. And now, when I need them, the words don’t come as easily or as readily. Maybe this is natural. Maybe pretending is easier.
You see, I am a little bit stuck. I find myself trapped between wanting to pretend and needing to tell the truths of my own life. There are memories and experiences and feelings which I have held close — oh so closely — all my life. I continue to hold them next to me even now. I can feel them, deep inside, next to my heart, festering. And I think to myself, “One push of the keyboard. Then another and another. What does it matter? It’s only words on a page, and those can’t hurt anyone. If you let them go, you’ll be free.”
And yet, I can’t seem to do it. No matter how much I need to write my truths, I can’t bring myself to take the action. I come close, but always fail to do it, in the end. Is it a misplaced sense of loyalty? Is it a misplaced sense of responsibility — this idea that I am responsible for the way other people feel? I do know words can hurt. I know this probably better than most people. Is it all right for me to chance inflicting hurt so that I can heal? Is it fear that holds me back? Maybe no one will believe me. Or, perhaps, it’s the small child who still lives somewhere deep down inside of me. She knows better than to talk about anything that happens at home. She has been told this all her life. And some lessons are impossible to unlearn.
I am the sum of all my experiences. They have made me a person who has compassion and care for others. They have given me the ability to mother my child with humor and humility and joy. They have taught me to laugh at life and at the world around me. They have done so many good and wonderful things for me. But they also hold me back. Because I can’t let them go. Amid the gut-wrenching realization that this will never end for me, I want to cling to hope. Because my experiences taught me that, too: If you are alive, there is always hope for things to change. Maybe I can’t write about the things I need to say. Maybe, for today, those experiences remain locked inside of me. But tomorrow is a new day. And so is the day after that. And I’m still alive.