Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
– Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
I spent this past weekend at a remarkable place, studying with a remarkable teacher, with two remarkable women by my side. I learned so much about myself, about writing, about the ways my body (or maybe my brain) craves Diet Coke and chocolate after a few meals of tempeh loaf and steamed kale.
As I reintegrate into the rest of my life – coming home, as I did, to find a wonky Internet connection and sick kids – I feel like I’m just beginning to process the lessons of the weekend. Dani shared so many delicious morsels about memoir and emotion and writing from “the memory of feeling,” but one question in particular is buzzing around at the front of my mind today:
As writers, what do we do with the contradictions in a life, especially when that life is our own?
Dani led us this weekend in an exercise called “I Remember…” based on Joe Brainard’s book of the same name, a collection of his one or two sentence reminiscences of his childhood and coming of age. As I recorded my own stream of consciousness reflections, I couldn’t help but think about the ways in which that kind of off-the-cuff writing flows without input from the inner critic. My ideas moved from brain to pen without judgment or analysis. What I was left with was a collection of moments which, almost accidentally, started to tell a story about my past. And the story was full of me and full of my many contradictions.
I decided last night to play with the exercise, to change the prompt from “I Remember…” to simply “I…” and to write uncensored for five minutes. Here’s what I came up with:
I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend. I used to be a teacher.
I am a writer.
I am a vegetarian. I run sometimes. I do yoga sometimes. Sometimes I make a bag of microwave popcorn, dump chocolate chips on top, and eat the whole thing.
I subscribe to The New Yorker, but, a lot of the time, I prefer to read People. After I read People instead of The New Yorker, I sometimes feel guilty about it. I talk more about reading The New Yorker than I do about reading People.
I love to read.
I love to talk to my husband about where we might be in five years, in ten, in 25. I love to dream together.
I feel calmest in a tidy house, in a quiet place, in a room alone. I rarely feel calm these days.
I like to be by myself. And then I like to come home again.
I understand that there are things that are good for me. That make me feel good. That keep me connected to the people I love. I’m not usually good at making those things a priority over, say, folding laundry or playing “Angry Birds.”
I get grumpy when I’m hungry.
I love my kids, but I’m never as happy to see them as I am the moment I return after being away from them.
Contradictions again. And all of them equally me. I took so much away from my weekend of writing, but my first priority is to think more about what the story of my contradictions tells me about myself, to keep writing my way into understanding.
Who are you today?