RECENTLY, I ran across this John Steinbeck quote: “Men do change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.” Poetic, yes. The ring of truth, yes. Change is often so gradual, in fact, that we can easily miss it until it’s a full-blown difference we can’t overlook. At the early stages of change, our intuition seems to play a key role. We may “sense something” well before we can articulate anything more. I wanted to write about this aspect of memoir today, because as I was editing a few chapters in mine last week, I noticed how my awareness had, on a deep, unseen level, picked up on events in sketchy, undeveloped form quite frequently in advance of their arrival or manifestation.
But what is this feeling of knowing, the quiet voice within that seems to be telling us something so vague that we aren’t quite sure what to make of it on a rational, logical level? And how often do we disregard these subtle warnings, or intimations, dismissing them as “nothing?”
It feels, to me, a bit like walking a path like this — one thick with plant life that hides the sky and everything else. We sense something, but what is it? And if we try to communicate these quiet, almost whisper-like perceptions, others may say: “Well, what do you mean, exactly?” But you don’t know what you mean exactly! You just know your internal radar is picking up on another level of awareness not easily explained or pinned down.
The color is missing, right? The cues we look to for details, nuance, and fact.
Yet, on a subconscious level, we see where the bend in the road might be leading.
In writing about these times within my memoir I tried not to sound vague or unconvincing, but I wonder if I effectively bridged the gap between tiny internal vibrations and the bigger story unfolding in fits and spurts. Even when we are young certain things come into our awareness that seem more pronounced — more memorable. We tuck these moments away like fine china, returning to them for insight and proof that these days of long ago were also real. And meaningful.
“For who will testify, who will accurately describe our lives if we do not do it ourselves?”
Faye Moskowitz, And the Bridge is Love
“I believe that the memoir is the novel of the 21st century; it’s an amazing form
that we haven’t even begun to tap…we’re just getting started figuring out what the rules are.”
— Susan Cheever
Beyond what is actually accomplished in a memoir, however, is the wonderful opportunity to explore the path of life … once more. Deeply, over time, and with the demands of the work pushing us to consider that look, that voice, those eyes, yet again. And again. The intention alone feels sacred at times. Writing memoir (also called creative nonfiction, literary nonfiction, personal narrative) can be a way to honor life — to explore hidden contours that illuminated our steps, to share our most crushing moments and how we searched, deep within, for the incentive to get up the next day. Nearly everyone (if lucky) must walk this formidable path at some point, for some reason.
This is how we grow beyond superficial perspectives and shallow life orientations.
“Life is tough and brimming with loss, and the most we can do about it is to glimpse ourselves
clear now and then, and find out what we feel about familiar scenes and recurring faces this time around.”
Roger Angell, Let Me Finish
Memoir, it seems, can and should offer a window into the deeper side of life. Into something we can’t imagine happening to us. Don’t we have an obligation to move beyond our myopic vision, beyond what our ego leads us to believe? How else can we hope to understand the energy, the incredible power, behind each second? A one-dimensional existence isn’t all that fulfilling. We are ALL so much more. Why not discover the many branches of life, dare to walk a path that continually opens into something beyond mere sight?
“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass
through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before
we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”
— Nelson Mandela
If you are looking for a memoir written entirely as a single poem, I would recommend GABRIEL: A POEM by Edward Hirsch. I discovered this book in a fall issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, 2014. Hirsch also lost a son to unfortunate circumstances, and if his name isn’t familiar to you, as background, he’s published at least eight collections of poetry, six books of prose, and is currently the President of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in New York. GABRIEL is on my desk, a book I look forward to reading soon.
I included three poems in my memoir because they offer different insights into tragedy and loss, allowing me to share what is largely imperceptible, but there, nonetheless. One such poem is “Glide,” another one, “Grey Edges,” and finally, a very short poem I published a few years ago called, “Sunbeam Dance.” They add layers of understanding, and allow me to tap into the ephemeral elements of life more easily. So even if you’re not a huge poetry fan, I think you’ll like the ones I’ve included in the book. I hope so.
In the meantime watch for signs along the path. They may be subtle, they may come and go … but if you’re attentive, alert, and awake .. you will see and hear them. As we all say, “signs are everywhere.” ~ dh
–> WHAT signs have you noticed on your life path these days?
- See you again Friday, August 21st, when I’ll continue to focus on memoir — the genre, the path, the point of it all.
- Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place is a book about digging into our surroundings to unearth an organic and timeless wisdom. If you’re looking for inspiration or want to lean more about a landscape, a place, that helped me unearth my spiritual roots, you may love this book. Enjoy.
- Thank you EKM for these lovely photographs!
When we value the journey itself, new realities are revealed amidst the old.