|This is what 45,000 words looks like.|
The Buddhist story of the hungry ghosts is one I've always been drawn to. Hungry ghosts are creatures with a ravenous hunger and tiny mouths which will admit no food. These starving creatures rattle and clamor in our minds, constantly demanding food and attention that we can never satisfy.
Hungry ghosts are most commonly used as a metaphor for addiction. The addicts stuff themselves full of drugs, alcohol, food, sex ... whatever their substance of choice ... to feed a deeply spiritual and emotional hunger that can never be nourished by such things. I think hungry ghosts speak to non-addicts too. Many of us suffer from an emotional hunger that has never been satisfied no matter where we go, who we love, or what we do. We crawl around like hungry, empty beings, searching for the thing that will cure our suffering.
I'm haunted by my own hungry ghosts, of course. If you've read my blog for any time at all, you've witnessed my search for happiness, for forgiveness, for understanding.
I have hungered long and hard for a manuscript I could never finish. I've been working on it for ten years and I have been held helpless in the grasp of failure and immobility. But then I finally did something about it. I hired a writing coach last August and I was writing along at a good pace up until I hit a difficult chapter.
I started that chapter in November. I just finished it this week, if that tells you anything about how it's been going lately.
Writing a memoir isn't easy. I think we all realize it wouldn't be easy, but perhaps we think we have it in us. We think we could do it. We think one day, when we have time, we'll put it all down. The good, the bad, the ugly. We'll put it down so everyone knows it happened. So we ourselves know it happened. As if writing it down will somehow make it official and reassure ourselves that we're not crazy. We're not alone. It all happened and we survived it. Goddamn, we survived it! And isn't that beautiful? Isn't that downright inspirational?
But then comes a chapter such as this.
And I'll be gobsmacked if I couldn't write it.
The sentences came in halting spurts. A chapter a week ground down to a paragraph a week. I wrote a few sentences at a time and it felt like drawing a razor blade across my skin. It hurt to push down. It scared me on some primal level, as though getting down deep would be fatal.
I talked about it in therapy. I talked it out with my husband. I've been talking it out for over twenty years, alright? I've told this story a thousand times. I've already dealt with it. It's old news. I'm so beyond this. I'm all like, "Bitch, please" with my childhood.
*Holds hand up*
So why I can't I write it down?
What kind of black magic happens in writing it down?
How are the words on the page different than the thoughts in your head? How is it different than saying it out loud? How is it different than telling everyone you know until it almost becomes a punchline to the joke that is your life.
I don't know.
But it is.
Japanese Buddhists have a ritual called Segaki. Segaki means, "Feeding of the hungry ghosts." During this ceremony, they write the things they wish to resolve on slips of paper and then light them on fire. Their words burn up towards the heavens as ashy offerings to the hungry ghosts. Maybe that's what the act of memoir is? I didn't know it would feel so final. I didn't know why I stayed in therapy for so many years without resolution. I never realized that the act of writing it all down, in one final work, would give me such a feeling of peace.
I think I was waiting for this.
Maybe I wasn't able to do it until now? Maybe that's why it's been so hard and taken so long?
But here at last, I'm writing it down. All of it. I'm laying out my mistakes for the world to see. To say that this happened to me. I did this. And I did that. It was real. And I somehow survived it.
Writing it down is forgiveness.
I didn't expect that part.
I burn these bits of papers. These memories. I feed the ghosts that have trailed me since I was a girl. I feed them and I ask for forgiveness and the ability to forgive. I ask for mercy for us all.
I started the chapter in November. I've gone on an anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety drug in the time since it began. I've bled into the pages. The words may read easy but it was 70 words a day. Words that traveled as though on hands and knees.
And now I've finished that chapter after seven months of struggle.
The 65-page chapter. It is the behemoth in the middle of the book. It sits heavy and sunken, dipped down in the middle like an old mattress.
But it is done, motherfuckers. That bitch is buried.
(Excuse my language. I'm drunk with accomplishment.)
I have written 45,000 words of my memoir. That's 180-some pages. I've read that a memoir should be around 75,000 words, give or take. But I figure it will be done when it's done, regardless of how many words that might be. And even then it won't be done, because I plan to spend a good long time editing and revising it. So I'm in it for the long haul.
If writing it down was opening a vein and letting it bleed, the revising will be the careful stitching up of the wound. Writing is like surgery. It's medicinal. It's messy. And I'd prefer to do it under sedation, with well-sated ghosts cheering me on.