COVID-19 has done many things but it hasn’t rewired my brain. At least not yet.
I’m still prone to procrastinating. Like now – blogging when I should be writing … or at least editing. That’s because I’m a moody writer – always have been, always will be. For me, words splatter onto the page with sweat, tears and occasionally a bit of blood. Deadlines and word counts are necessary evils, ones that occasionally mess with my muse. Yet despite this intuitive approach, I still manage to churn out an enormous amount of work, perhaps because something deeper, darker, is driving my output. Something I don’t want to deal with. Not now.
Not until I’m strong enough.
Recently, I’ve toyed with the idea of writing memoir, despite my initial resistance: Why on earth would someone want to read my story? It’s just a life lived, albeit a colourful one with many adventures, quite a few brushes with death, a mega dose of trauma and, despite (because of?) all of this, loads of laughter. Then I started to share snippets of my life, parcelling out random slivers in time because I haven’t quite pieced the story together yet. I was surprised when people reacted in a visceral way.
Okay, maybe a small part of me wasn’t surprised.
When you’re growing up, you don’t have a solid worldview – a reference by which to judge your life, your experiences, your family, their flaws. No matter how f@$%ed up life seems at times you assume it’s normal; no one has a perfect family, a perfect life, right? You can’t appreciate the good without the bad. And suffering builds character, after all – at least that’s what my (part) Irish upbringing led me to believe. Problem is when you’re an adult – and an older adult, at that – you’ve notched up a decent yardstick. Add to that the distance and, in a sense, the objectivity that an expat life brings. You casually mention a few memories to friends, assuming they had similar experiences. But their tears, their shocked silence, reveal they’re struggling to process your words. Turns out your ‘normal’ isn’t normal after all.
Trauma is a strange beast. When survival kicks in, you bury the pain, loss and damage so deep that they can’t possibly be located, let alone unearthed. And if you tried, surely you’d weaken the roots. So you build up the foundation instead – finding your identity over the years, trusting no one – or maybe just one – gradually revealing pieces of yourself that sometimes even you don’t recognise. Your wall is still up – it’s always up – but you’ve lost a few bricks along the way, and you view that as progress. Until you stumble across a fossil. You run your hands over its fine impressions, trying to decipher their shape. And meaning. But it’s impossible – you don’t know the language.
So you write. And keep writing. Anything and everything, hoping you’ll become proficient. That you’ll find the words to unlock the past and make sense of everything.