Monday, February 6, 2017.
I’m at a private university, in a graduate-level memoir writing class that costs $1,869, which I couldn’t afford even if I get more than my usual 2-3 percent raise this spring. I’m not even in the damn master’s program. I’m just an employee of the university, using my tuition benefits. I know I can write, but do I belong here, with these six women who are so studied and polished? During our in-class writing exercises, they all have the most poetic prose on tap and pour it out on command like the finest craft IPA into a growler. I thought all writers cranked out shitty first drafts like I do and then whipped them into shape later. That’s what Anne Lamott taught me, but maybe that’s just me and her, and all other writers are brilliant their first go-round. I gather that some of these women are afraid to be less-than-perfect as they can’t even dumb down their writing when the assignment calls for it, like when the professor asks us to write in a child’s voice. Upon hearing one story, I want to comment, “How impressive that your four-year-old self used the words ‘bailiwick’ and ‘aubergine’ in casual conversation.” I’m a bitch like that, but not quite bitchy (or brave) enough to say those things out loud.
In the span of our three-hour class, I manage to split myself open. The professor had spent many years working as a therapist and assures us that we are in a safe space to share so that we can get to the truth in our writing. In an uncharacteristic moment of actually believing I’m among kindred souls, I leap at the opportunity to do some purging. When I’m done, I receive a smattering of awkward feedback from classmates and a concerned look from the professor, who asks if alcoholism and/or mental illness runs in my family.
People don’t quite know what to make of me. It’s a recurring theme in my life.
I walk out of class feeling raw and mangled, like I have just run my soul through a meat grinder. The night air is warm, but I zip up my jacket as if to hold myself together. This scattered feeling has me worried that I lost a few vital chunks of myself in the classroom, but I am still able to put one foot in front of the other and find my car, so maybe those pieces weren’t so critical after all. Maybe they were just familiar. In any case, I do not have the energy to sort it all out. I have to halt the racing thoughts and shift back into survival mode. Ahead of me is a 45-minute drive, in which I will need to stay vigilant and avoid cops because my registration is expired. Then I have to stop off at the grocery store, walk the dogs, and find out if my children had a good day.
When at last I get to close my eyes around midnight, I see faces I don’t want to see and hear a low hum of angry chatter, a garbled mix of those who have reinforced my feeling of wrongness over the years. My mother’s voice figures prominently, or is it my own? At some point, I took over where she and others left off and can’t differentiate among us. These voices are what those of a religious bent might call demons, but I know it’s just my mind running a loop of old stories that no longer serve me, stories I’m tired of telling myself. These stories belong somewhere other than my head, and I must free them with all the truth and love my fractured self can conjure up.