I’ve been coming to the realization lately that my memoir needs to be less “logically” structured. It is of a nonlinear story, after all, and most major “characters” play multiple “selves.” When I sit down to write, I often put myself into “logical” mode, intent on weaving the story in straight and parallel lines. But this is not how I experience life — and is a memoir not supposed to be an account of one’s actual lived experience?
If I am to be honest about my experiences and my thought processes, there needs to be less emphasis on conventional “structure.” For instance, sometimes my mind flashes vignettes — with a narrow spotlight focus and faded edges, no beginning or end — but these bittersweet images intoxicate me and are as much a part of my world as (and sometimes even more a part of my world than) what I can see with my eyes.
Or, for instance, there is another sense. A sense with no name. But it is a sense with feelings like. . . Places. Years/Months. People. Lifetimes. “It feels like Shanghai.” “It feels like early-spring in 2010 — maybe March?” “I feel a friend I haven’t seen in ages.” “I feel the 1940s.” Each feeling like this cloaks me for its moment, and I experience life in multiple layers simultaneously: not just what’s in front of me in physical reality, not just the emotions within me, but also that feeling that is all around me and beyond emotion. A feeling that sometimes transposes other times and other worlds onto the here and now. Or reveals how they join (How do they join? Always by love. Always. . . love. . .).
This, too, is part of how I experience life. I need to be able to talk about that “sense” as matter-of-factly as I feel it.
In the end, I finally realize, I experience life as something deeply poetic. Awe-inspiring beauty in the mundane. An artistic whole greater than the sum of its parts. A rhythm in its “words,” a cadence that synchronizes with all hearts.
Or I experience life as a sweeping epic — albeit a blushing one, generally hiding its own grandeur (so modestly) under the surface in any given moment.
I count myself fortunate for all of this.
Most of the time, I try to write like a “normal” person. But something is missing when I do that. And I’ve been slowly accepting that one of the greatest disservices I have ever done to myself was insisting that I needed to be “normal.” Nobody’s “normal.” We are all artists, of a kind. My inner world is much richer than the words I allow myself for describing it. Hence, any memoir that attempted to reduce my experience down to the concrete, the rational, would be woefully incomplete. That is not the fullness of my world. That is not the whole of my story.
Lately, I have been feeling something different in the air. It is old. It is familiar. It feels like an energy that gathered around me in the months just before everything changed — just before life took on its magical quality. There was a precursor to that period, a very deep, resonant, all-embracing peace, a sense of some sort of big and beautiful change to come. I have been getting the urge, frequently (usually around twilight), to abandon my work abruptly and take long walks — even though it’s below freezing — just because my soul recognizes the “warmth” in the air and wants to fill my lungs and my being with it again. It’s a feeling that makes everything lighter. Sometimes, but not always, the feeling comes accompanied by more “vignettes” — absolutely mundane moments, but somehow they glimmer with understated sublimity. The veil falls away and dimensions connect. And across them, people. Places. Years. Stories. Lives. Hearts.
I’ve been reflecting recently on a conversation with a friend, perhaps about six years ago. We talked often about philosophy, and one day, he described a particular type of experience in this way: “It’s kind of like. . . for just a moment, you can sort of, almost, see a part of the blueprint of the grand design.” I never heard anyone express it better. And memories of that conversation call to mind, too, some words from Dante in the final Canto of his Divina Commedia:
I saw within Its depth how It conceives
all things in a single volume bound by Love,
of which the universe is the scattered leaves;
substance, accident, and their relation
so fused that all I say could do no more
than yield a glimpse of that bright revelation.
I think I saw the universal force
that binds these things, for as I speak these words,
I feel my joy swell and my spirits warm.
I don’t know what it is that I feel on the air, don’t know what’s coming. Maybe nothing in particular. But I do know, finally, that these kinds of “feelings” and images, too, are a huge part of “real life” for me, and my story would be incomplete without them. Time to stop trying to live a normal life, tell a normal story. Life is poetry. Reality is magic.
Laura left a Ph.D. program at age 26 to make good on long-forgotten dreams of nomad'ing and writing. She currently lives in Berlin and writes about the magic of everyday life — most especially, the magic we find when we open our hearts and choose to follow them.