Over the past many years, as more of my creative energies have been poured into writing, I have tried to pull forth the tiniest of details from a wide array of memories, from a chilly breeze I felt in high school to the first moment I held a copy of Ordinary Sparkling Moments. I have done brainstorm after brainstorm of stories, memories, feelings, experiences and ideas, trying to decide which ones merit the commitment it takes to plow through upwards of 10-20 drafts in order to get it just right. And through it all, I keep trying to nail down an exact definition of my voice as a writer, not entirely confident I have that figured out yet.
During the past year in particular, I have worked on stories that are, shall we say, less than pleasant - some of my darkest recollections, in fact, stories that dredge up memories that make me literally recoil, where I pull my chest inward and close my eyes, as if to brace myself for a punch in the face. I have felt compelled to work on some of these stories for two main reasons. First, because in sharing them I hope to provide a voice of hope and light, a voice that says, "Yes, this is what I went through, but I went on to create a beautiful life." Second, because I got the idea in my head that in order to be a "serious" writer I had to write about "serious" things, and that if I didn't stand before my readers naked my stories wouldn't have as much meaning, impact and gravity.
But then a funny thing happened when I was in Hawaii recently for my husband's son's wedding, where the word family was thrown around like a beach ball and I became hyper-aware of what stories I was bringing to that environment. There was one evening when I held on to all the stories that made me afraid of that word family, when I stood quietly in a crowd of revelers and focused on whatever memory I could find that would ensure I felt like an outsider. The next day, I thought about that, and realized it was entirely within my power to let those stories go and step fully into the stories being created right in front of me, stories where I was an integral part of this family, and the only person who doubted that was me. From that point forward, everything was about one thing and one thing only: Joy. And that joy was possible because I made the choice to let it in. It was just that simple.
It hit me today that I have the same choices with the stories I choose to write, and that I need to let go of feeling like I "should" write about certain things because I think they might somehow "serve the world" (and hence, earn my place in it.) If some of my stormier memories come forth in a story organically, fine, but I decided today that it is OK if I choose not to expose them. I can still write stories and essays that are meaningful, thought-provoking, and poetic even if they don't touch upon heartache, loss or sadness.
In what I write, and how I live, I get to choose which stories define me, which stories fill my heart and mind and guide me through each day. Sometimes painful memories serve me well, reminding me what is important and what I do not want in my life, but if they play no such role, then it is totally reasonable to simply let them go. As I look around my home, in a kitchen with a fresh pot of coffee, an aqua blue tablecloth, fresh flowers and a dear friend about to arrive from an ocean away, I see that my darkest stories have no place here. They are roads on the map of my past, and as such they helped me get to this exact moment - so in that sense I have reason to be grateful for them - but right here, right now, I choose to let them stay in the past, where they are no longer real, and no longer capable of casting a shadow over my life.