I gave the manuscript to Marie for editing and immediately had a wave of doubt, partly about the quality of my writing and partly about the worthiness of telling the story — it’s normal for me to oscillate between “this is terrible!” and “I am a genius!” so it’s gotten a bit easier over a lifetime of ~Being a Writer~ to slowly talk myself out of the pits of despair (as well as to recognize that the elated highs are just as fleeting!). Anyway, I had some doubts about personal writing style because the story is not as poetic and flowery as I’ve sometimes written things in the past. This is probably for the best because I in no way want to romanticize any aspect of what I am writing about; I remember that before I’d even begun to actually write, a piece of advice I gave myself was to avoid sentimentality.
But it’s very different than the kind of writing I’ve done that I’ve felt proud of (even years later when I’m embarrassed by the subject matter, I still think I was doing all right at honing the craft or whatever). I think I neglected to use descriptive metaphors, I refrained somewhat purposefully from describing what someone or someplace looked like and I sort of felt like I’d done a lousy job at crafting scenes the reader could visualize — but then, do I want the reader to actually visualize my recollections of trauma? I don’t know. I focused a lot on how I felt, and what I thought, trying to use active voice to write what I did, and how I reacted to what he did.
It turned out sounding, to me at least, very distant, almost even clinical. I struggled to write “the facts” even when I was writing about how I felt unsure about “the facts” and writing about how I have vacancies in my memory, a sense of collapsed time; plus it got a little meta as I wrote a little about the act of writing bringing back memories (having to research through old journals and remembering about things I had forgotten even though I’d taken the time to write it down years ago) — writing about how I remembered what I’d forgotten I’d remembered?
I’m thinkin’ about an article I read recently but cannot find the link right now, about how it’s typical, normal even, and psychologically understandable that many victims of abuse tell their stories distantly, deadpan monotonous and with a startling lack of emotion — which this article had said that such a method of telling the trauma has had the unfortunate effect of causing (???) the listener to disbelieve, and how professionals (like law enforcement, social workers, etc.) need to be re-trained in interviewing and listening strategies in order to learn that sometimes lack of emotion is an expression of honesty, sometimes distance is a sign of shock…
I think I needed to have that distance for other reasons as well, because partly I guess what I want is to be able to treat this as a piece of writing; yes, it’s a personal story, it’s a trauma narrative, it’s about real things that happened and it is told as truthfully as I could — but I don’t want its being a trauma narrative to be the only thing giving it “merit” as a “work” of “writing.”
Yet I’m still worried I sound unbelievable, unreliable as I’ve written so mechanically about awful things, almost casually sometimes, repeating the same handful of adjectives: "incessant, terrible, absurd"…
I don’t know. I think I want this thing to be both a piece of art and a piece of evidence and I’m not sure how I really feel about that.
I’m thinkin’ about what HST wrote recently re: “trauma narratives written in the past tense.” I tried to write everything in the past tense on purpose, as a sort of exercise to convince myself it happened in the past even as I was flooded with recollection and often had to take breaks from being overwhelmed — thinking about what happened then, feeling like I felt thinking now about what happened then, and so on in a negative feedback loop.
The writing was clunky and awkward, and I’m not great at grammar so I just finally looked up what I’d done: it’s written in a mix of simple past, past progressive, past perfect simple, past perfect progressive — but a lot of it is not written in any past tense at all even though I thought that’s what I was doing. Instead, it’s conditional (e.g. “we would fight, he would have gotten drunk, I would be anxious”), tenses which are used to describe actions that might take place or might have taken place in the past.