Tag Archives: story

“render, render”

Good morning good morning. It’s grey here today, the clouds soaking across the hills, coating everything in an impenetrable foggy frost that I am deeply grateful for. How has the day begun for you? Where is your sun just now?

Sophie has gone after a squirrel this morning, who is now stuck up on top of the neighbor’s garage and is letting forth a stream of chitters that I can only assume is squirrel for lots and lots of expletives. Sophie stands guard, ball in her mouth (thus rendering her fully incapable of catching anything else between her teeth, but the squirrel doesn’t know that) — she and the squirrel have this sort of antagonistic relationship when he gets close to where she can catch him, but I’ve seen her watching him in the garden for long stretches, those times he risks coming down from the walnut tree to grab one of the fallen green walnuts or takes to examining the garden to see if there’s anything there he might like, and Sophie will stand up at the top of the garden, on the patio, watching and watching, still and quiet, not wanting to disturb him, waiting for him to get close? Or maybe she just wants to see what he’ll do? Maybe she wants to be friends?

He’s made it now, from the garage roof, across the top of the backyard fence and back to the trees where he lives — Sophie chases him along the fence, every time he comes down far enough that she’s aware of him, and he chitters his curses the whole time, though now I think maybe it’s more like, go ahead and try it, you land-bound thing! Perhaps something better, more vitriolic.

I’m sitting on the back deck, a good place for quiet when the whole house is up (save for the chasing, barking dog and the teasing, chattering squirrel). The squirrel makes it across our back yard, from tree to tree, and I can’t hear his old-man chattering anymore. Sophie goes to the side fence, next to the other neighbor’s yard, where the squirrel sometimes hides down at ground-level,and she stands up to peek over the fence, using her front paws to grab at the fence and pull herself up and forward to get a better look. The squirrel suddenly appears on the top of the neighbor’s house.

It’s a serious drama here in the backyard this morning.

This morning I woke up thinking about the word render, which means things like: provide or give (as in a service); cause to be; represent or show artistically; melt down (fat); and comes from old French meaning “give back” or “yield.”

This brought to mind a poem that I hand out in the workshops sometimes:

Render, Render
-Thomas Lux

Boil it down: feet, skin, gristle,
bones, vertebrae, heart muscle, boil
it down, skim, and boil
again, dreams, history, add them and boil
again, boil and skim
in closed cauldrons, boil your horse, his hooves,
the runned-over dog you loved, the girl
by the pencil sharpener
who looked at you, looked away,
boil that for hours, render it
down, take more from the top as more settles to the bottom,
the heavier, the denser, throw in ache
and sperm, and a bead
of sweat that slid from your armpit to your waist
as you sat stiff-backed before a test, turn up
the fire, boil and skim, boil
some more, add a fever
and the virus that blinded an eye, now’s the time
to add guilt and fear, throw
logs on the fire, coal, gasoline, throw
two goldfish in the pot (their swim bladders
used for “clearing”), boil and boil, render
it down and distill,
concentrate
that for which there is no
other use at all, boil it down, down,
then stir it with rosewater, that
which is now one dense, fatty, scented red essence
which you smear on your lips
and go forth
to plant as many kisses upon the world
as the world can bear!

I lay in bed long after the alarm went off, hitting snooze, turning back over to cuddle into the blankets, writing this post in my head: render is what we do with the material we live through when we decide to offer it down oto the page. When we write out our joys and struggles, we render the experience from something we lived through, from a vast and uncoordinated series of memories and neuronal interweavings, into story.

Rendering a story takes work. We decide what details to include, what to leave out. We create a structure: a beginning, middle, and end — even when telling just one piece of our day, we tend to create an arc. We build tension, we use sensory detail, we develop characters, we use foreshadowing and backstory — we aren’t intending to do any of this: humans are storytelling creatures. We learn how to do story early, just by listening to the other people around us. We play make believe, we dream, we gossip, we remember aloud to friends, we write poems and fictions and journal entries — we render the constant influx of sensory experience and data down to the stuff of deep human communication: story. And there are so many ways to tell the same experience — every time, the story will be a little different — we’ll remember some detail or forget another, we’ll add a twist, we’ll include something we weren’t ready to say the first time. Every rendering has a different flavor. And why do we do this? To make sense of our lives. To feel witnessed. To be part of the tribe. To set some order to the overwhelm, to have some sense of control over the experience: this is my material, and I’ll do what I want with it, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the life-and-death squirrel-dog drama, the house finches are quietly chewing seeds off of the hawthorn tree, tenaciously avoiding the thorns while they breakfast. I’m noticing my allegiance with them these days — is there really any reason to be running around crazy, barking at everything that feels like a threat? Don’t we have some songs to sing? There’s a juvenile finch in with the adults, just learning to fly, and though she’s joined the grown folks for the meal, she still needs help serving herself, and flaps her wings at one of the adults, chirping, until they feed her. Meanwhile, Sophie stands vigilant, just in case the intruder should return. There have been years I lived the way she is standing right now: muscles tense, every nerve at attention, unable to focus for long on anything but the chance that someone or something might cross the boundary into her space and already ready to fight it off. The thing about Sophie is that she’s able to walk away after a little while. She discharges her tension (shaking her body and stretching long and hard), ridding her muscles of the adrenaline and anxiety — then she moves on to the next thing. It’s usually not so easy for people — we hold tension and hyperalertness in our bodies long, long after the trauma is past.

One of the ways I discharge the old trauma, rendering it into something of use, is through writing. What about you? What happens when you story your knowings, your experiences? What happens when you don’t?

questioning the broken story

patterns-closeIn Tuesday’s post, I said: How we tell our stories matters. The words we use for our stories matters. The metaphors and symbolic language, the imagery – all matter, all influence how we perceive ourselves, our bodies, our physical being, our agency, our history and our possibility.

For instance, consider the story inside the word broken as it gets applied to survivors of violence. Broken is commonly incorporated as a metaphor into survivor stories – he left me broken. He ruined me. She left me in pieces. He tore apart my soul.

I climbed into this fragmented narrative, this narrative of fragmentation, when I began to identify as an incest survivor. Identity is a story: we don’t just take on a label when we identify as something, we take on the narratives that accompany that identity – we have to interact with that identity’s story. The incest/trauma survivor story contained these: “broken, ruined, dead.”

These are powerful phrasings, necessary to use to describe how the body feels, how the victim feels, how the raped child feels when she is violated by someone neat to be a protector, when she is physically and psychically assaulted, then silenced, shamed and threatened, then psychologically tortured so that she will comply with the abuser’s demands of silent complicity. We need a brutal narrative to match the brutality of our inner experience. We need a story that will wake people up, we need a story that will make standers-by understand why we need help. We are attempting to counteract and supplant the other, deeply entrenched stories: the child is the parent’s possession to do with as the parent wishes; children often lie and are not to be believed when they say their parents or other adults are hurting them; child abuse is a family problem and outsiders should not intervene; children often invite sexual acts; America puts women and children first – those stories hold powerful sway, culturally. It makes sense that with the rise of an Incest Survivor advocacy community, we would reach for language as incendiary as the experiences and silencings we suffered through: he might as well have killed me; he left me for dead; I felt like a ghost; I didn’t exist anymore.

As I came into an Incest identity, I latched onto the story of broken: And the more I told the story of how broken I felt, the more the story of broken is what I inhabited.

Broken was big enough to explain how I felt. Broken was also irreversible. A shattered vase might get glued back together but you can always see the cracks, the scars – and that vase was now weaker, easier to break the next time. We were broken and proud of it. Fuck you, we said. We might get better, but we were never going to be the same. He ruined us. He broke us. He stole our childhood. He stole my adolescence. He broke my sex and now I would never be normal.

These stories express our extreme disenfranchisement from our own agency. And we tell them over and over and over – and, each time we tell the story, we deepen its neuronal pathway inside us, making it easier and faster for us to tell again the next time.

Just a few years ago, I began to question: What if that story was a lens that I was looking at my experience through? Certainly I’m using broken metaphorically, to express my sense of internal fragmentation, and of not being a normal and regular (which, my necessity, means unbroken and whole) woman. Aren’t I?

What if there was another story, another lens I could look at my experience through? What if broken didn’t have to be my name? What if I am whole, my sex is whole, my complexity is whole? What if I struggle, still have questions, but am whole, intact?

 What if I could tell a different story?

“The truth about stories is that they’re all we are.”

Taking a stand against a cultural story and meta-narrative is resistance work, builds muscle.

In learning to live outside the lens or silo of Broken, I am flung (if I’m not careful) headlong into the relentlessly cheerful Gratitude story: whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

What if I didn’t want a cultural narrative, a grant application anecdote, a Hallmark card, a cup of soup for my soul? What if I was ready for a less-than-simple story, something more complex, more complicated, more real; something less pithy, less easily told?

In our survivors writing groups, this is what we hold open room and hold out hope for – the messy story, the fragmented telling, the rape story with jokes and laughter in it, the story of the loving parent who put his hands inside his child, the story of turning still for support to the mother who abandoned you – the stories that friends, surveys, some therapists, family, nonprofits, social workers, activists and advocates have a hard time hearing (literally comprehending) and holding because these stories don’t match the language we have acquiesced to as a culture: ruin, devastation, dismal, hopeless, broken.

Our human, lived stories are more complicated than one lens can reveal.

Outside of one story are a hundred other stories. Outside of Broken is frightening, still – I feel uncontained, sprawling. I also experience myself as having greater agency. Not broken or unbroken, intact and imperfect. Wounded, sore, struggling, whole. Human, like all the rest of the humans around me struggling with something.

Thank you for the stories that have carried you this far, and for the stories you are beginning to question and upend. Thank you for that risking. Thank you for your words.

opening to new stories

Thomas King writes, in The Truth About Stories, “Stories are wondrous things. And they are dangerous.”

What is a story? It is a rehashing of events, a narrative, an anecdote, a lie, a truth. The dictionary isn’t helping me here, just giving me synonyms. What is a story? It’s a telling or a making up. It’s offering an account of an experience, so someone else can can come to know or understand what happened. It’s a fabrication, a weaving into existence something that wasn’t, that didn’t exist, until we put it into precise words.

 Story is contextual. And who determines a story’s context? “She’s telling stories” is the way some folks call us liars. But we know what truths come from storyteller’s mouths.

 Thomas King also writes, “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” He repeats this line throughout his slender book, driving the point home: we create ourselves, we know and understand ourselves, through the stories we tell and/or listen to and believe about ourselves, about those like us, about our communities, society, families, world.

Trauma is a story. Identity is a story. Religion is a story. Sex is a story. The body is a story.

Yes, the body is also bone and tissue, chemical reactions, pulses, electrical leaps. The body is fluid and organ, is emergence and excretion, is breath and heartbeat. The body exists as an object in this precise moment, entirely independent of its context, its historical situation, its experiences. Doesn’t it?

Would this body be what and how it is independent of the stories I have told about it? What is my body without its stories, its histories and herstories? What is yours?

Is my DNA a story? My musculature? What can you learn from the story of my skin, her scars and stretch marks, her stains and curves? What can you read in the complicated interweaving of my neuronal infrastructure (which would be transformed if the stories of my body were transformed)?

We use story every day, throughout the day. When someone asks how we slept, we offer a story of deems and waking. When a friend calls to tell us about her morning, she gives us a story, an anecdote. We tell childhood stories, baby stories, coming out stories, the story of how we met, the story of an illness, the story of our experience of abuse, the story of our recovery. When I ask someone, “Do you know my story?” – I have a particular story in mind. I meant the story of my trauma, most of the time – and this is the story of my body.

Every story is an illumination and an occlusion. Every story highlights one side of a situation while leaving out other information. This is out of necessity. We can’t remember or apprehend every detail of a happening or an experience. We remember what’s important – we tell what we remember and, over time, what we remember is what we’ve told repeatedly. We believe our own stories. We can forget that there are other ways to tell, understand, consider those stories – and each different telling provides a different lens through which to consider ourselves and our experiences.

How we tell our stories matters. The words we use for our stories matters. The metaphors and symbolic language, the imagery – all matter, all influence how we perceive ourselves, our bodies, our physical being, our agency, our history and our possibility.

What stories do you have about yourself and your experience that no longer serve you? What happens when you shift, examine or change the stories you’ve been living with, and by, and through? What happens when you expose yourself to other people’s stories, really listen to them, and consider how they compare to your own?

the shift of our stories

graffiti detail: bright slashes of red blue black yellow silverGood Monday to you. Here is candlelight and cooling tea, here is the chill of late October morning, here is the click of keys into a quiet kitchen, here is the ache of morning. What is hovering inside and about you at this time of faeries and visitations?

Today I am thinking about story: the stories we share with others in order to explain ourselves, the way those stories, our storying, shift over time — and what those shifts can tell us about how we are healing. Continue reading