Monday, June 10, 2013

On Talking About My Past

I learned how to write when I was about five years old, and I haven't stopped since. Even as a first grader, I would retreat to my room after school with a pencil and a stack of paper. Most of the time, my words were cheerful, imaginative, lighthearted. Other times, however, I would sit at my desk and let my pain spill out onto the page. Writing became my confidant; I used words to express thoughts that I couldn't say out loud.

I found one page in a journal I kept when I was in second grade. In frustration I had scribbled over the words, but I could just make out the sentences, riddled with pain.

"There is something wrong with my legs, but not my brothers legs. I wish there wasnt. Sometimes I feel sad."


For seventeen years, I talked about my CP with literally nobody. That is, until I was required to submit my college entrance essay to my English teacher. What's more, we were expected to share it with our classmates.

My heart sunk. I had something written, but it was soul-achingly personal, painfully deep. I spoke to my teacher about my reservations, and she told me that I didn't have to read my essay to my peers.

Yet, the night before the essay was due, I sat in front of my computer screen in tears. I didn't want to share my words with anybody, not even my teacher. I tried to write a new essay about something trivial, but the words wouldn't come. In resignation, I hit the "Print" button, turned off the computer before I could change my mind, and climbed into bed.

The essay was returned to me a few days later with no edits; my teacher said that it moved her to tears and gave her chills.

I was encouraged by her comments, but I was still uncomfortable sharing details about my life with others, even my friends.

~

One evening, I was eating dinner with my best friend from college, and she asked me what I wrote about for my college entrance essay, that same essay that I struggled to submit to my senior year English teacher.

The question caught me totally off-guard. I was silent for a moment; then, "My life."

For many people my age, that question is innocent and simple. Perhaps they wrote about a family vacation gone wrong, their favorite hobby, or a track race that inspired them. But for me, that question was deeply personal, difficult to put into words. How could I sum up an essay that, in essence, is the core of an entire blog?

So in some ways, my answer was honest. My essay really was about my life, about how my disability has impacted everything I do. But in other ways, my reply was a cop-out, something I felt guilty about later. When she asked that question, we had only known each other for a few months, but was it fair to give her such a vague response, to offer her such little insight into my past? Didn't she deserve to know more, to see how I became the person I am today?

I knew she did, but I just couldn't. I couldn't share.

When I do have to allude to my CP, I make light of it in order to put people at ease. Once, one of my high school teachers asked me why I used crutches. I told her that I broke my leg because I didn't want her to pity me. This was true; I did break my leg, but it was only half of the truth. Another time, when I was being interviewed for a newspaper article, I told the reporter that my CP doesn't really affect my life. When I trip over nothing, I often laugh it off, saying, "I just wanted to make sure the floor was clean!" And when I am asked to do something that I know I am physically unable to do, I smile and say, "I'd better not do that because I have a feeling that it wouldn't turn out well, and I'm too young to die!"

~

One of my classes last semester required us to respond to the readings by drawing upon personal experiences. Many times, I wrote about my disability and explained how it has brought depth and understanding to my life.

My professor read my pieces and said, "Your writing is so profound; why don't you share more in class?"

The margins of my essays were peppered with, "SHARE, SHARE, SHARE!"

And sometimes I did, but other times I couldn't bring myself to speak about my personal experiences in front of twenty people I didn't know very well.

You might think that's silly; how can you write a blog, you might say, if you can't share in front of twenty people your own age? But it's different...I feel that the majority of my blogging audience comes from a similar place.

My blogging audience, for the most part, understands me. The outside world? Not so much.

Somehow as soon as I try to speak with any depth about my personal experiences, the words get caught in my throat and I find myself reaching for a pencil.

Because writing is there to explain what my voice cannot.

9 comments:

  1. It's always easier in a way though - with a blog you have time to organise your thoughts, to go back, edit, change, prune, rearrange, and present a finished product - still from the heart but not so raw or tangled as a conversation. There are no interruptions, no tangents, and (most importantly) no pity-face to upset you and put you off.

    I can definitely relate to being able to share more candidly online.

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  2. I read some of this post to my Mom, and she agrees- we are literally so similar it freaks me out. I could be writing this-- and now I really want to read your college entrance essay, haha! My best friend always says I need to learn how to talk- I write instead of speak because I can never seem to say things right- or convey what I want to say unless I write it. I can't get over how much you sound like my long-lost twin. We have to meet- we just have to!!

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  3. Well, you know how I feel about your writings so I won't massage your confidence and tell you to be a public speaker as well... :)

    BUT...I completely understand this feeling of sharing your story to strangers (like me) vs. sharing with your peers, family and others in the "real" world.

    I blogged for almost a year before going public with my private friends. I was more than hesitant about revealing my writings. One, I didn't want anyone pitying us. Two, I wasn't sure if I was ready to hear their response.

    I find that I edit myself now, in my blog. I am cautious about offending one of Boo's therapists/teachers or even one of our friends.

    But I am happy I decided to do it. It has made me more confident, provided more support for Boo and has allowed people who were afraid to ask the questions to learn more about why we are the way we are. By providing the insight to our lives I have opened the door for them to feel comfortable talking about Boo.

    In the end, of course, sharing your story has to be at your comfort level. Sure I feel comfortable writing about Boo, but I am only just beginning to share more about myself. It took me 9m to do an about me page.

    In writing you can also censor/edit your thoughts. Speaking up in a class, opening yourself to questions and maybe critics is much more difficult. But maybe the next time a boy sees a girl struggling he won't tell her to join a gym.

    You are the bravest girl I know in this blog-world. Keep doing what you do!

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  4. Kerry my awesome friend. Your writing is extraordinary and I completely get not wanting to share in real life. You're so right that the blogging world gets it and I think that's because as writers and bloggers, we find people whose voices resonate with us and our situations. In real life, at school, at work, we can't choose to only surround ourselves with compassionate and awesome people. In blogging and writing, we DO get to choose to only surround ourselves with people who "get us."
    I, too, struggle with sharing our personal celebrations and pain with people in real life. Parents of typical kids simply cannot understand that in our house, an almost four-year old trying to pronounce his name is huge - a milestone. They feel sorry for us and I can't stand that.
    I am so very glad that I met you and found your words here. They are always amazing and chilling and warming and just plain awesome. I'm so glad you're writing. Like Kerri said, keep doing what you do. Please. The world needs your voice. You will be famous one day, sweets. I know it.

    PS - gave you a shout-out on my post today! :)

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  5. I think many people who blog/write about their lives totally get what you are saying. In fact, there have been things I have hesitated on, or even chosen not to share on my blog, solely because people I know in real life would be reading it. As always, your writing is amazing.

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  6. Considerer: Thank you for your comment! I'm so glad I'm not the only one who feels this way!

    Jacquelyn: OMG! Sometimes I can relate to you so well that it's freaky! ;) Haha...I love that you "get" me.

    Kerri: Thank you so much for your encouraging comment. Your insight is amazing and I really appreciate hearing your perspective!

    Kristi: Ugh, I totally understand the pity thing! And right back at you -- I am so glad to have discovered your blog as well. Your words have changed my life. And thank you for the shout-out! I am loving this Our Land series!! xo

    Tracey: Thanks for the comment! I love that you understand, and I always look forward to reading your posts. YOUR writing is amazing! Hugs!

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  7. "There is something wrong with my legs, but not my brothers' legs. I wish there wasn't. Sometimes, I feel sad." Holy cow. You were SO articulate at seven! I love it! I love it because at the same age, and beyond that, I felt the very same way. Like there was something wrong with me, because twins were supposed to be "the same" and I knew I was not "the same."

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  8. Wow. I can completely relate to not wanting to share. I attempted to avoid all mention of my CP in my college admissions essays because I was uncomfortable sharing. And I completely get why you didn't want to share your incredibly personal personal statement with your teacher and your class. I've had the same sort of experience in college because I had to do an art project for a class and write about what inspired it. Mine was inspired by a time I reluctantly disclosed my CP to...someone else with CP. Like you with your assignment, I did very well, my professor seemed to understand, and she didn't treat me any differently. I understand your reservations to share about your CP, though. The disability community often understands better and accepts people as they are, which is why it's awesome. ❤️

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