Some stories need to be told. They’re demanding and sink their claws into your soul and don’t let go until they’re told. Some stories are the past left to fester until telling them is the only way to draw out the poison. Some stories are the future, chomping at the bit, demanding to be told to create a new world. Some stories are the present, glimpses of moments and attempts at understanding. Stories have power. Telling your own story in your own words with your own voice is the greatest power in the world.
I am a storyteller; a recorder of human experience. This is new for me. Publicly admitting it at least. I’ve always told stories but only for myself as a way to create a world where I felt like I belonged. Just a little place where I fit; just a little corner of the world where I wasn’t too much or not enough.
I told myself stories about being a princess, a knight, a pirate and I imagined worlds where I was like Harry Potter, waiting until someone came to tell me that the reason I didn’t fit was because I was in the wrong world. That there’s more to the world than what I saw and the world itself was wrong, not me.
But no one came for me and nothing changed until I got sick. That feeling of wrongness lodged itself in my chest and spread through my body like choking vines until I felt like a stranger in my own body. Like I didn’t even fit within myself. My body was too much and not enough, never ever right. So I stopped eating and tried to stop feeling wrong by finding myself in other people. I tried to find myself in people who were sick like me; people who hurt themselves and others so the world felt their pain.
And I stopped telling stories because my world had narrowed to the tiny pinprick of my body and food and the desperate drive to stop. Just stop feeling, stop trying, stop failing, stop being wrong. But the wrongness spread, no matter how many times I ate until I couldn’t move and threw up for hours, no matter how many people I made myself less for because I needed someone to just touch me and prove I still existed.
I became a story of clichés. Someone else’s story about a girl who was smart so should go to college, a girl who was pretty so should have a boyfriend. So I did. I shoulded for years and failed college twice and cheated on my boyfriend and nearly died.
So I went to treatment and for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t alone. I felt my brain start working and I started telling stories again. Stories about survival and fear and being more. About allowing myself to want. And I started realizing that the stories I was telling were too small; that I was limited by the scope of my imagination which was limited by my insecurities and sense of self. I tried to correct this by making perfect characters who never feared or felt pain, characters who were invincible, not strong. And all the while I struggled, struggled to reconcile a sad, lonely child who grew up with no sense of self beyond wrongness and a reluctant adult who was terrified of real life because last time I’d tried that I’d been punched in the face by life.
So that’s what I started writing about. You’re supposed to write what you know and what I knew was doubt and crippling fear and the nearly impossible task of allowing myself to be human. I made a character, a flawed, selfish, brilliant, human character so that I could have enough distance to be safe enough within myself to figure myself out.
Instead of writing the impossible ideal, I was discovering what was already there. I had to get naked for art, strip myself down past vulnerability to the truth and sit in a stew of my own loneliness and neuroses and it was the best time of my life. Awful but exhilarating. Art should be a mirror. Sometimes it intentionally distorts but all I needed was the truth and I just had to write myself brave enough to look into the mirror I created. I wrote myself human because I had to in order to keep surviving.
I have to write. It’s an indelible part of who I am. But I made myself a good writer because I write human characters. I write to survive and I write well to do more than survive.
I still struggle all the time. I struggle with food and my body and my sense of self. But I have this feeling now, this minuscule kernel of truth in my soul that says that no matter what, I can never disappear again because I know who I am as a flawed human. I can never be worthless again because I can write. I wrote a novel. A really good one and I’ll always have that. My weird brain filters all my emotions and insecurities through my body but my weird brain also creates and destroys worlds. It builds castles out of thin air and fills them with human characters.
I’ll never be perfect. All I ever wanted was to be perfect so I could never be hurt. But art is the opposite of perfection. Art is a record of the human experience and to achieve perfection I would have to give up making art. Perfection is not part of the human experience. Part of my human experience is an eating disorder and bipolar disorder and an extensive list of my fucked up family medical history and I am anxious, neurotic, selfish, scared, shallow, impulsive, judgmental, petulant, and just really fucking human. And that’s what I write about. And I would never give that up for all the impossible perfection in the world. Someday, maybe I’ll write a character who is better at listing her virtues than faults without feeling narcissistic. I’m working on it.
Now my body is failing. On Thursday I go to the doctor to see if I’m genetically predisposed for four different kinds of cancer. It’s hard not to feel like with first my brain and now my body failing me, I was born broken. That’s an old tune sung by the mean voice in my head but it feels true and scary. I don’t have a story for that yet; I’m too close. I’m too in the fear and resignation with not enough objectivity for a story. When I write it though, I’ll write about my great-grandmother, grandmother, great-aunt, aunt, and mom; generations of women with my genes who are and were the strongest, flawed human women I have ever known or heard about. Women who endured mental institutions, survived hysterectomies, mastectomies, abusive husbands and fathers, and wars. I’ll write that I’m not broken or not too much or not enough again. But not yet. I have to sit and feel and cry first and then I’ll tell my story again. And again. I’ll spend my life telling the truths of humanity and that’s all I need.