I am paralyzed by own search for meaning, by the need to draw out conclusions, maybe even (dare I say) truths from my words, my experiences, my stories. I walk over the damp cushiony dirt between the roots of trees with peeling bark, and at the same time I wonder what I could learn from trees, if there is a pattern in the growing of things, why I’m so lucky to afford this luxury in the first place, this walking and meaning-searching.
Which leads to the other paralysis, the one of my own privilege. I am so aware that everything about my life, the freedom to walk in safe green spaces, hours to sit at my computer and craft sentences, even my ruminating over the cost and responsibility of privilege, is somehow enmeshed with my rich, white, Canadian place in things. Knowing that I can tell my story only because someone else is unable to tell theirs, leaves me floundering, desperate to write, but paralyzed by the ability to do so.
All of these heady internal conversations, my analyses, guilt and defensiveness, they render me motionless even though I’ve spent decades pouring my life behind the imperative to write and tell stories. So I turn instead to the one truth that— I don’t think— can be denied. The facts of my experience. My uninterpreted life. I spend hours at this exercise, recording the details of my days, my young daughters’ words, movements, the flight of the birds above the tree line:
A sunbird lands on the ivy climbing up the stripy bark of the banana tree. Its feathers shimmer in the morning sunlight. It chirps, hops over to reach its curved beak into the open purple petals of the agapanthus. The flowers tremble with the bird’s deep drinking.
J wakes early, slides silently down the hall in white soft cotton pajamas, sniffles in the silence. She sits down beside me, wipes her nose with an old baby washcloth, reads a fairy book in the dim light before dawn.
The girls squeeze into the bath tub, scrub dirt from their foreheads and feet. P makes soup in a cupcake lining and bows as she serves it to me. Water splashes on the floor as J makes explosions with a small shampoo tube.
A brown hadada ibis struts across the lawn.It pecks at the grass with its preposterous beak, watches me with a round leery eye. I remember when M was two and stood at the back door talking to the ibises, loud, screeching. They answered her with their caws just like she assumed they would.
Today we argue. About new cars versus old, about where to sit at the dinner table, about how to argue. We each retreat to nurse our wounds, emerge cautiously from bedrooms and books, try again, argue again. I go to bed early and wait for morning.
I write these stories, the truth of my days, with relief and gratitude, but still with an underpinning of fear. Even the facts of one’s life can be judged. They may have happened but that doesn’t mean they should have happened. Maybe we are too insular, insulated, shouldn’t spend so much time safe in our four walls, doors shut, suffering ignored. We have our own pain of course, our own suffering even, but it doesn’t touch the bigger broader sufferings, the ones named war and rape and racism and abuse and famine and incarceration. Those stories are theoretical to us, at least now, sad and sorrowing stories, but abstract.
The trail of slug slime on the sidewalk, the sharp smell of the first rain, the arguments over Lego, these are the concrete experiences of our bodies, our breath. I don’t know how to hold all of it, how to tell my own stories without devaluing others. I want to search for meaning but am afraid I must relinquish that privilege to other voices who have not yet experienced that luxury.
I am a writer afraid of writing. I hold my small truths in my hand like wounded butterflies, sad and unsure what to do next, willing them to fly.