By Kim Triedman
I turned 55 today. I’m not fishing for belated birthday wishes. Trust me — I’d rather let it slip by unnoticed. I only mention it because, for me, those birthdays divisible by 5 always force some manner of reckoning or re-appraisal.
So start here: I am a writer.
Or here: I have no business calling myself a writer.
Or even here: You’re never too old to get a nose ring.
Writers or not, we all live inside our own self-narratives. By this I mean our own stories about ourselves: who we are, what we are, how we intersect with the world around us. On a purely psychological basis they are essential: they allow us to edit and organize the universe’s barrage into manageable, psychologically-affirming constructions — the scaffolding on which we hang the shingles of our lives. We live within these constructions, and they, in turn, live within us, allowing us to venture out into the wilds knowing that at the end of the day the comfort of our sanctuary awaits us.
It is a symbiotic relationship to the core. Our personal narratives prop us up by allowing us to make sense of a senseless world. We, in turn, perpetuate these stories by elaborating them — cherry-picking and molding the constant influx of experience to fit our existing assumptions about ourselves.
What’s interesting to me as a writer is how these narratives change over time. Not just for ourselves as writers, but also for the characters we create on the page. Hopefully, the individuals that populate our stories are as mutable as we ourselves are – growing and evolving, constantly adapting to a world that rears and bucks around them. And hopefully, as these characters develop, they carry with them not just the chiseled stone of what they have become at any given moment in time but also all the selves that have led them to this point. Whatever we choose to say or not say about our characters’ earlier lives, the whole of those lives must be written into every word and gesture.
In her fabulous debut novel Life Drawing, Robin Black’s narrator Augusta (Gus) poses the question: how do any of us make sense of our own fractured narratives? In one scene, Gus looks across the table at her husband Owen over a noticeably strained Thanksgiving dinner:
“…as I watched him, I thought about all the many, many Owens there, carried in that single body of his. The boy. The man he had been before I taught him wariness. The measurer of distances and the plumber of pond depths. How was it that any of us could walk across a room without our own multitudes tripping us up?” … Continue Reading