For an English class assignment I needed to write a paper about myself as a writer, in the third person. This is what came out;
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Dianne Grace Piggott spent much of her life with an untold story inside of her, or she had lived her life inside an untold story. Regardless, these words struck her when she first read them. At the time, her life held profound discomfort and confusion, and yet the silent promise of growth. She realized that her untold, un-birthed story was sapping her soul. She knew that an element of her growth and healing was to release this overdue story. By writing it out she was able to understand what it meant in her past and to begin to change her life into a future. By writing it out, she could begin to act it out. By acting it out it would become her life.
Over months and years she wrote her story as emails to friends and blog posts to strangers. She wrote letters to herself and sent and unsent letters to people in her past so she could slowly peel away the crisp egg shell formed by the habits of self-perception and learn who she was, and who she could be. She had to dispassionately view the story of her past, and reserve painful recriminating self-judgment, so she could know what to do in the future.
The people in her past life and present life were her story’s cast of characters. As these characters became players in a narrative she was able to see them outside of the context of her emotions. Once they were rendered through her own words she could begin to see them honestly and without shame. One of those characters was Dianne. Most of the time, this one character was the hardest for her to understand. Always, it was the hardest for her to watch. She had done things that diminished her sense of worth and things that she questioned every day, for years. These were not evil things or even unfeeling things. They were simply things that had to be as they were. That could be no other way. They were things that, once done, could not be undone. But the reality of their inevitability did not soften the wish that they could have been otherwise.
The other critical characters in her past story were a spouse, and a son. These were the ones who still had hooks. These were the ones that she felt she had failed. Within herself Dianne could strive, at best, for self-forgiveness. From these people she knew there was no redemption. Their verdict still lived on in rejection and cold distance. She could not change that, she could only change how she lived with it. She could redefine what it meant to her.
It should be said here that the details of this nagging untold story are not important. The plot and motives, the actions and passions of the characters are not as important as the mechanism, manner and purpose of its telling. Letting her untold story out and putting it on pages let her learn it and feel it. It let her explore it as an object outside of herself rather than as some hot, sticky, confusing thing inside of her. The process let her learn the difference between trying to look at the story from the inside, trying to look at her heart and soul from inside her mind, and looking at it from the outside, looking at this character who needed narrative and motivation and plot. She was hoping that this person might find peace in the telling, if only the right words could be brought to bear. If only years of rewrites and reframing could let her understand the main character. If only she could begin to see herself as a sympathetic member of this living dramatis personae.
Dianne’s character did not need plot complications and conflicts to resolve. Those came in the first act, in the first scenes of this sometimes fractured narrative. And she didn’t need heroes, because there was only one character that could save her, and that was Dianne. What her character needed was directing, mentoring, nurturing and guidance. Once she was outside of herself and spilling across the pages and screens of words she could finally see what she needed. It became much clearer when she looked at it as the author of her character’s life rather than seeing herself, Dianne, as an actor scripted by fate to be a player in some cosmic theater of the absurd. She could stop playing someone else’s script.
This was no easy task. Years of habit had her framing herself as a flawed, damaged being. Years of habit had her trying to ignore, avoid, and compartmentalize the disquiet in an effort to just get by day to day. There is a rhythm and simplicity in denial. Growth can be hard and challenging.
She had to struggle to push through pain to let this story out. She had to breathe deeply and let it come as it dictated. She had to give herself over to it. Slowly, quickly, exhaustingly, rewardingly, she gave birth to this story because the story was her life, it was purely her, and she had to give birth to herself. She had to acknowledge that the past was the past and that the future could live in this fresh new self.
And she felt power.
Slow, firm, inevitable power.
Not conquering power but building power, guiding power. She felt the power of the potter shaping a spinning lump of clay on the wheel. She felt the power of the painter who somehow knows where the colors need to go, but still must guide the process. Because once she started telling the story it became HER story, Dianne’s creation story, her past and her present and her future. And once she could claim it and take it for herself she could decide what she wanted it to be. She could find destiny and self-determination.
She knew she couldn’t revise the past, and that she shouldn’t revise the past, because in its essence that is not a healthy thing. It wasn’t a matter of revising the story, it was a matter of reframing it and reinterpreting it for a changed and developed life. What she could do is put it in context. She could look at the past and see that the untold story character, the one that was to become Dianne, had done her best. She could write her explanations and plumb her motivations and hopefully forgive herself. She could heal herself. She could give herself Grace.
As she began to write this story of herself, this exploration of Dianne, she was finally able to let broken pieces go. She was able to begin to take the agony of the long avoided untold story and turn it into the bliss of creation. She was able to become her own life’s author, her own editor, her own playwright, her own parent and her own child. She didn’t write a novel or a play. She wrote intimate emails to friends and she wrote letters to herself, she wrote questions of and declarations to people in her past. She wrote touchstones that let her connect who she was with who she is and with who she would become. She wrote pages and pages that dove into her soul and that were written passionately and revised scrupulously. She lingered over some with tenderness and kindness. She spewed some out in tempestuous tangles of thought and frustration and fear. Some she held tightly and allowed them to ripen and mellow. Some she read and deleted because living them through the writing was enough, reading them again later would be too much. Too much to share even with herself.
In Tibetan Buddhism, monks will create intricate designs, mandalas, with colored sand on a flat piece of wood. For painstaking hours and with intense concentration they will create detailed depictions of the universe while contemplating the inevitable cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. Once these amazingly rich, dense and glorious images of all that is are completed, the monks will sweep them up and blow them away on the wind. It demonstrates impermanence. They don’t have to remain to have value because the process of creation was enough. The process was the goal. For Dianne, the goal was to lay down who she had been, how her life had developed, the details of her universe as she had lived it. Grain by grain she had to place the colors in the proper place so they could signify how her life had been. She had to put the internal beasts of her personal cosmology into perspective and count them up and take their true measures. She needed to know her own creation story so she could know the elements of her life. Then she could know what she could take forward. Then she could see that the horrible creatures that inhabited her past and inhibited her future actually had no teeth. Then she could sweep up this mandala of her past and be grateful for its impermanence. She could breathe in a fresh deep breath of the future and blow away the colored sands of her past. She could sweep the table clean again and have a simple surface full of promise. Then she could slowly mete out the grains of sand that would form the intricate designs of her new, fresh universe. She could contemplate her own inevitable cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth.
Dianne found the peaceful grace that can come in letting out the untold story. She could begin living her new story.