I’ve become hyper aware that my writing life and real day-to-day life have hit a impasse that has never been apparent to me before. I love learning more about myself though writing and learning more about the world I inhabit.
In wiring memoir, the author, through her character self, is required to come across as a reliable narrator in the telling of her/his life. Of course, it’s a life the author picked apart so as to choose the parts that make for an interesting tale, yet still rings true for the reader. The narrative needs to both bare the soul to the reader and to tell a story that somehow shows the character changing in some significant way.
As Miss Mona, my pin-up name, I take on a whole other persona. When the winged eyeliner, the red lipstick, the tight sweater or swing dress go on, and the wet set gets brushed out of my temporary red hair I lose a large part of my daily anxiety, and a confidence pops up as soon as I catch a glimpse of the mask in the mirror.
As a teenager I was heavily into make up but it wasn’t until I started working after school and could afford the likes of hair dye and eyeliner that I found myself at home on a stage. Who would believe a periodic agoraphobic could suddenly perform in vaudeville shows, sing, dance, and generally become a person I have never known before. Now I wonder, where did she go? Perhaps she will only ever be seen on the papers of a memoir. For some reason I don’t want to write about that period in my life. It’s like if I pick it to pieces for a story I will kill the fairytale. What if I could find a way back to that place though? A place void of pills and panic attacks, a place where leaving the house was not a decision each day to worry about but rather a given, no thought to it whatsoever.
My mistake was in who I chose to associate with after school’s summer break over 1989/90. Teenagers can be caught up in dramas so much so that they don’t realise the impact they’re having on their friends. In this friendship I lost my identity and conformed to the standards of the group, which were set by the alpha-girl. I put the mask down and gave up on the me that felt good for the sake of acceptance. I put on a new mask, one to hide the pain, to blend in. I started writing. That was the only place it was safe to be me. Of course, no one read any of what I wrote.
To be vulnerable on the page do I have to take off all the masks, or to be vulnerable on the page do I need to find the mask that fits best for what I want to write?
Once upon a time, a young woman use to stand up for herself. Unfortunately she would do so even when the threat was only a perceived one.
Eventually she worked out this only escalated her anxiety levels.
Now she sits with that dodgy purchase she made, and contemplates ways to justify wasting the money, to write it off as just one of those things that happen to people.
Back to her writing project she wonders why she chose to write in memoir when she gets to one of those key scenes that she cannot work her way around, they have to be in the narrative for the story she’s telling to work.
Her heart rate advances.
Her blood pressure drops, leaving her light headed, vision a little hazy as she writes.
Her concentration moves away from the scene she’s writing, and she forgets that even though this is memoir, these people can’t harm her anymore, they are just characters, and she forgets to take a fresh look at the events and remember that she can write this in anyway she wants. She’s not a magician and can’t change the facts, but she can put in her reflection, a magic that time passing allows her.
Confrontation doesn’t always have to raise anxiety. (As for that dodgy purchase, she’ll have to work on that.)
Do you ever have one of those days where you focus on the past too much? I know the saying that anxiety is living in the future and depression is living in the past, but here in the present I’m writing about the past and there’s some really intense feelings coming up.
To set the mood I’ve also been going through photographs from that time in my life and listening to the music that I was hearing back then. Not just the stuff I liked, but stuff I hated too, because it all has feelings attached to it and if I do my job right I can get that layered into the text.
The part that is getting me down is seeing that I had no voice back then. There was some unspoken rule in my family that this anxious teenager couldn’t be trusted to make the right decisions for herself and so they were made for me.
I don’t think suffering panic attacks, or having generalised anxiety disorder should preclude anyone from choosing their life path, who they spend it with or what they do with their time.
I’m trying to rewrite this narrative so I have some kind of a voice in the end, even if it’s two decades too late. I’d love to have a do-over and go back in time, but I’m sure everyone has at least one of those moments they’d like to change, anxiety or no anxiety.
So I’m taking all the ‘no you can’t’ statements that were given to me as my story and I’m looking for the ways I responded by showing them ‘yes I can’ and bringing those to the front of the stage, and hopefully when I finish this what I’m left with won’t be a source of memory that causes depression, but will be a memory I can be happy to sit with. I know I can’t change the facts, but I can shift the focus, put the spotlight on the good things, and I get to choose how, in light of the years I’ve lived since, I remember things. I’m not going to be held hostage to the way other people want me to remember my past. Not anymore.