Hiding out in the past

 

I’ve been writing my memoir for three years. It seems like forever until I think about the 67 years it took me to live it.

On Tuesday, September 19th, 2017, at 11:30 p.m. Bali time, after once again reading through the entire 99,327 word manuscript, I deleted an unnecessary adjective on page 181, took a weary breath, and hit send. A kind woman in New York City will take a look at it. She’s been in the publishing industry for a long time. The fate of my labors hangs on her advice.

I didn’t anticipate the feelings that would arise in the absence of that project. I expected relief and little else. There’s been a little relief and a lot else. Every morning for the past three years I’ve awakened knowing I had work to do. September 20th, dawned with an entire day empty. That’s how it felt: empty. The truth is, I’m retired. Every hour is mine to fill or not in any way I choose. But I’d committed the previous thirty-six months to writing, and that gave my life focus. Finished now, at least for the moment, what would I do with all that available time?

Before I could swing my legs over the side of the bed for morning ablutions, a realization hit: I was back in the present. I’d spent three years reliving the past. I don’t mean remembering – remembering is passive. Reliving is active involvement, re-experiencing, re-feeling, bringing up old emotions to craft into words so future readers can connect with something real. Sending the manuscript on its way detached me from that former time and catapulted me into the present.

A huge portion of mental real estate was wiped clean. My mind, scrubbed and shiny, felt new. The sensation expanded throughout my body. It made sense. The tens of thousands of words I’d dredged up to tell my story had been at the expense of every nerve and cell where traumas were stored. My entire being had existed in the past for the duration of the writing, and now I was free.

The present is a new experience, and I’m not yet altogether comfortable with it. Although much of the past was unpleasant, it was familiar. I could always duck into it, hide for days believing that I was working – writing – which I was. I was also healing. Mucking around in those stories, retelling them, gave me the opportunity to see things in a different light. In so doing, wounds healed. But at the same time, I was stuck there, using the past as a buffer to cushion myself from – from what?

From getting old. Yes. From the very real, very present evidence of encroaching old age. To be fully present means accepting who I am now. I’ve heard many mature adults say that inside they still feel sixteen, or twenty-five. I used to say the same. But writing the memoir has brought me current. I’ve lived those years, twice. I’ve learned the lessons, finally, and have earned the earmarks of the elder: sags, wrinkles, and wisdom, one would hope!

There have been other shifts like this, seismic upheavals that heralded a new way of being, and all have come through writing. It’s a profound tool for self-discovery, and writing memoir is the ultimate challenge. For me, reliving my life through memoir accomplished what the first incarnation hadn’t: I grew up. But I’m not so adult as to pass on a pair of totally outrageous earrings at the Smile Shop – aren’t they great?!

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. barbparcellswritingalife
    Sep 23, 2017 @ 00:32:13

    I’m 68, retired, and also a writer. The last few years I’ve come to embrace those non-writing times more and more. Sure, I feel lost for the first few days after a project is done, but the sense of freedom is almost playful. I feel as if I’m playing hooky from work or school and it feels wonderfully adventurous of me!

    Liked by 1 person

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  2. gigicullins
    Sep 23, 2017 @ 01:00:34

    Congratulations on finishing your book! I’m sure it was a difficult, yet enlightening experience. Looking at your life in a different perspective is so healing. If you remember any of our discussions on the subject, I went through that over 30 years ago beginning with ACA and it enabled me to look at things through adult eyes instead of a child’s eyes and it absolutely changed my life. I’m so proud of you! Eager to read your book, my friend. And, I love the earrings!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. sageblessings
    Sep 23, 2017 @ 03:38:58

    Huge congratulations Sherry!! Your discipline and willingness to dive deep are admired. Can’t wait for the book to be published. Lots of opportunities ahead to write pieces on aging….happening to more of us each day. The earrings are wonderful and playful both…as are you.❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. shanemac
    Sep 23, 2017 @ 06:15:42

    Yes, the earrings are great but not nearly as wonderful as your writing. The earrings didn’t do their job. I was not distracted from a single word of your article. Even while writing about your writing you say it all so well and I’m enjoying being in your story.
    You deserve all the accolades that come to you after the discipline and enormous courage you have shown in writing your memoir. I’m in awe of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Sep 23, 2017 @ 10:15:19

      Discipline and courage…if I’d been a bit more disciplined it might not have taken three years! But it was intense and some time-outs were necessary. We’ll see what happens next! Thanks for being the best cheerleader ever!

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      Reply

  5. Anonymous
    Sep 23, 2017 @ 17:28:07

    How exciting! What a fabulous achievement! Wishing you every success xxx

    Like

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