Everyone has a story and for many years, I have thought that I should write mine. This endeavor would be mostly for my benefit and less for the benefit of the reader. However, if the reader should achieve some level of understanding, empathy, or connection with my writing, then I am grateful and sincerely appreciative. I have always enjoyed writing because it allows me to free mind space for new information. Keeping thoughts in my head just makes me feel overwhelmed and stressed, which is, well, stressful. So, the less I keep in, the better I feel! Privately, I write about a lot of things but each time that I have tried to write my story, I run into roadblocks. These roadblocks include the emotions that become too vivid, my life is great and I am not able to spend much time thinking about my past, or I write several thousand words and then, I run out of things to say. Over the years, these attempts to write my story, have led me to gain a better understanding of how much of my story is based on emotions and feelings and less is about the words and events.
Recently, I was listening to Drew Barrymore read her book, Wildflower, and I was struck when she suggested, “Life happens in small pieces, it is not one continuous story.” At that moment, even though I was not thinking about my own story, I thought, this is why I struggle with writing my story. I try to make it one continuous story with all the parts and pieces included, chapter by chapter. Some chapters are long and others are but a few sentences. Now, I truly get it. My story is not one continuous event but many small occurrences that have happened over the last 48 years. There is no single event that has continued from birth to now and there have been many phases in my life that have been quiet,mundane, and carefree. All of these events have a place in my story but how much and where is hard to determine when writing chapters.
After hearing Drew and thinking about my life, I began to understand that in order to write my story, I must compartmentalize my life and write smaller, contained stories about the events that were instrumental to me becoming the person that I am today. Taking this approach, my story will never end, I can pick and choose how much or how little I write about each piece, and the pieces can be isolated stories or I can intertwine the past with current events. This approach makes me feel much better about writing my story and this is the point where I will begin.
Although not the historical first part of my life, that would be birth, which I will discuss in a future post, the first day of kindergarten was a pivotal moment in my life. I have always struggled with the fact that the first memory that I have of being alive is the first day of kindergarten. I do not recall going school shopping, maybe we did not, I do not recall talking about starting school, or any of the things that usually happen prior to the first day of kindergarten. The only thing that I recall is arriving at school, being put in one of the lines outside, and at the appropriate time, following the person in front of me inside. Then, I am in a class with other students and the teacher asked me a question. My response, “I don’t know”. For the remainder of the morning, the teacher kept asking me questions and I continued to respond, “I don’t know.”It seemed that the more I did not know, the more the teacher focused on asking me questions. I became the “star” of the class. After lunch, the teacher stood in front of the class and announced, and this is a quote, “Carolyn, I know why you don’t know anything! You are in a 1st grade class and you should be in kindergarten”. Someone took me to the correct class, the teacher greeted me warmly, and my kindergarten life began but the events of that morning were never forgotten. Throughout my life, I have unintentionally used this experience as a baseline to judge how horrible an event is and fortunately, even though I have not known an answer or two and I have been wrong many times, I have never felt as small and dumb as I did that day.
While writing this article,I realized that on that day, I did not cry nor did I back away from the situation. Every time the teacher asked me a question, I responded, even though inside, I was falling apart. Throughout my life, no matter what I feel inside, I rarely let it show on the outside. I may disagree with a statement but I continue to nod and smile, while on the inside, the information is eating me alive. A few years ago, after a rather tedious meeting (yes, they all are but this one was special), I called a co-worker to vent my frustration. She immediately replied, What?!?! Carolyn, you sat there nodding and smiling the entire time as though you completely agreed.” I responded, Yep, because that is the easiest way to get the meeting to end. However, I was crying and screaming on the inside. To this day, following a painful meeting, she will say to me, “I bet you were crying on the inside!” She is always right.
In certain situations, the ability to express my unhappiness, outrage, or discontent simply does not exist. It is often easier to “keep it to myself” and “go with the flow”. What could I have said to the teacher? I did not have the words to convey how I was feeling because I simply did not understand the situation and understanding is crucial to the ability to respond. I believe the experience, albeit uncomfortable and hurtful, made me smarter about how I react in certain situations. I do not know if my way of reacting is healthy or the best approach, I simply know that it has helped me get through some very difficult situations. It has helped me maintain my composure and not cause a scene. I guess I have to say that I am actually grateful that this experience occurred when I was five, which allowed me to use it to frame future, similar interactions. Interestingly, writing it down has also allowed me to look at it from a very different perspective. After all these years, for the first time, I can see the positive that came from it as opposed to continuing to feel the hurt and shame.
At this moment, I am more convinced than ever that focusing on the the smaller pieces of my life instead of trying to grasp all 48 years at once is the best approach to writing my story. I am excited to embark upon this endeavor. I will continue to write in small chunks and eventually, my entire story will be revealed.