“The heart, the guardian of intuition with its secret, often fearful intentions, is the boss. Its commands are what a writer obeys — often without knowing it.”
Writing is a way of getting to know our deepest intentions. Patricia Hampl’s I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory tells us that and so much more. When we write to set down a memory — a child’s laughter, a mother’s lap, a father’s wishes — we believe we are driving the narrative. But the real writer is not the person who drives the car and cooks the dinner. The heart writes. We are, each of us, a symphony of circumstances, personae, spirit, and stories. As we watch our families grow, dust the snow off our children on a cold winter’s day, scrape eggs from a pan, and sing a well-worn lullaby, we are making memories. When we write, we make stories. Stories seem to be a patchwork of experience, but they are really woven from a timeless fabric. Because when we write we get quiet and hear the threadbare whisper of intuition, when we write we get intimate with this rock-bottom reality.
“Intimacy with a piece of writing, as with a person, comes from paying attention to the revelations it is capable of giving, not by imposing my own notions and agenda, no matter how well intentioned they might be.”
Our children allow us to become generous. We look for their best intentions. We make an effort to look beyond our prejudices and delve into the world of a new being. We get to know our babies’ cries. We sit uncomfortably with a child’s uncertainties. We dance in our living rooms despite our fear of being seen. Children surface our intimacy. Adult life can snuff out our tenderness. It can propel us toward personae. In family life we get a second chance to be in closer proximity to life. Children re-make us with their hot spark.
With this proximity comes discomfort. We no longer know with any certainty who we are. We stretch. We ache. It’s this same uncertainty that we sit with when we write our stories. To tell the story of our families is to wonder at the enigma of the ordinary.
“It still comes as a shock to realise that I don’t write about what I know, but in order to find out what I know. Is it possible to convey the enormous degree of blankness, confusion, hunch, and uncertainty lurking in the act of writing?”