Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dancing With Elephants, Part 3

Reason #3 For the Recent and Alarming Contemplation of Elephants:


One of my favorite things that we did on a family trip to England (besides walking five feet ahead of everyone hoping that some dashing young British man with proper dentition would come and swoop me away for tea and crumpets) was to visit the ancient city of Bath (which my dad embarrassingly pronounced "B-ah-th" in spite of his being, you know, American.) It was all just so ancient and so Roman and it thrilled my little preteen soul to walk on those cobblestones and smell the sulphur and know that I was gawking at the very tiled seats where so many royal and imperial bums had sat and soaked. The other thing I loved was making rubbings of the old brass tomb plates. They were engraved in intricate detail and depicted the very royalty I wanted to marry into. (This was before the whole Diana Disillusionment.) So, for a few pence (which at the exchange rate then was probably about 65 American dollars) you got a giant piece of black paper and a gold crayon thingy and you could do a rubbing of the brass of your choice. It was so much fun to run the gold crayon across the paper and watch the picture appear in relief. (It was also a great way to take these beautiful brasses home without committing a crime against the Queen.)

I was thinking about this the other day after I read Masked Mom's post entitled "Can I Get That In Writing?" It's an incredibly thought-provoking post about the things that we choose to write, or actually the things that we choose not to write and what we learn about ourselves from examining that. It sparked a whole mess of comments that were also thought-provoking, one of which mentioned elephants and sent me dancing with the pachyderms again.

Jane In Her Infinite Wisdom said this: "These are the things I don't write about in the blog, things I can't help but remember, things I don't want to share...not because I don't want you all to know me but because I don't want to hurt those who've hurt me. They are my large elephants and I still struggle to maneuver around them without acknowledging they are there."


All of us have these elephants. What do we do with them? Do we dress them up as furniture and bark our shins on them in the dark? Do we dress them in a tutu and turn a spotlight on them and make them dance for a crowd? Do we cower under them and hope they don't shift their position and stomp on us? Do we feed them and let them grow huge and poop all over everything? I often try to answer very important questions with very silly mental images. And I guess that's sort of the point. We all have different ways of dealing with these elephants, some more effective at times than others.


I consistently find it the most difficult to write directly about the things that are most important to me. So I travel back to Bath. I grab my giant piece of black paper and my gold crayon and rub away. I take those elephants' pebbled hides and use them as my brass. I don't touch them directly, but I rub and rub and bring forth their texture, their shape, a piece of their enormity. And it brings relief. Almost everyone I've ever heard of who writes, does so out of a sort of compulsion. They've got to. Whether it's because they have a fantastic story to tell, or because it helps them sort things out, or because they like to entertain, it comes from a drive akin to hunger. It is a relief to write about things - whether fictional or not, whether it's scribbling away in your tear-soaked unicorn journal or a blog or (heaven forbid) writing a best-seller. 


These elephants of ours give us vast resources upon which to draw when we write. I suppose there's a time and a place for stark revelation of the elephants themselves, but I know that even in my tear-soaked unicorn journal it is often more illuminating to write around the elephant, over the top of it and back again, giving it a once (or twice or thrice) over with my gold crayon. It's not ignoring its existence, it's drawing upon its existence. This gives me a chance to take it a piece at a time, to notice details I wouldn't have otherwise seen, to appreciate the texture and contours of different aspects of it. Is it likely that I will somehow forget how much I love my husband and monkeys if I don't write it down? Will I stop missing my dad if I don't use exactly those words? Will my maternal anxieties vanish if I don't address them directly? Probably not. But those are things that I can't write about directly; not well anyway. But I can tell a story about something the monkeys said, or my husband did. I can recall a fond memory of my dad. I can laugh about some minute anxiety (barf). All of those things will bring into relief the bigger picture and the more I do it, the clearer the picture becomes. The same is true of the uglier, darker, more hurtful elephants.


This is especially true of my public writing. It's a great way for you to take these beautiful elephants home without committing a crime against the Queen.



19 comments:

  1. First, now I have a picture of 3 elephants wearing party hats stuffed into a closet, staring out wide-eyed and waiting.

    Second, I'm fascinated how you've woven parts 2 and 3 together. In 2, you believe in the absolute truth of the whole elephant while in part 3, you dance around the elephant, examine his tail, touch his ears. It makes me think about how we keep our elephants disguised but also how we reveal them in threads.

    Third, thank you for the mention.

    Finally, I'm off to explore your Alan Rickman tag because awesome.

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    1. And now I have the same mental image. Awesome!

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    2. You are so welcome for the mention. Now all 5 of my readers will go check you out if they haven't already.

      Alan Rickman is so on my list.

      That mental image is fantastic and I'm going to carry it around with me today.

      I am thrilled that the hamsters in my computer added this reply function to Blogger's basic comment function. I am going to WEAR IT OUT.

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  2. Before acknowledging an excellent piece of writing, I want to mention that all of the years we took students to Yosemite, we did a half-day orientation the first morning we were there. And to make sure they could find their way around the valley, we sent them in teams to visit seven spots, and bring back proof that they had been there, by making pencil rubbings. The first group back got something special, like a day with no camp responsibilities. I still have a collection of those pencil rubbings that I did to remember where I had been. It was a great way to take Yosemite home with me, "without committing crimes against"-John Muir? I loved the way you wrapped up your trilogy. I trotted one of those elephants out last week, when I was talking about being raised a Catholic, but now prefer a little less structured approach in my doddering days.

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    1. One should never commit a crime against John Muir. It sounds like you had some very well-educated students in the best sense of that phrase. Sometimes the elephants need some exercise.

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  3. Like Jane (Damn it, I always come late to the party and end up repeating what everyone else says! I am in fact capable of independent thought, contrary to all appearances!), I appreciate the way you wove these elements of your elephant trilogy together. You've given me a lot of food for thought. I touch on sensitive issues here and there in posts, never going into too much detail, almost testing the waters. For whom? I don't know. I do feel a compulsion to write, and fall into the 'entertaining' category most often because deflection has always been my way of disguising my elephants. But I wonder if trying to draw attention from them makes me focus on them more.

    I now have images of elephants pooping all over my personal issues, and I'm quite certain that mental image will stay with me for some time.

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    1. Let us not forget that I copied one of your comments word for word just the other day. As far as the "sensitive issues" go, in my opinion, there's a time and a place for a stark, tabloid-style, tell-all but what I prefer to write (and read) is the effect of the elephant rather than the elephant itself.
      The elephant poop, if you will.

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  4. I'm fairly certain there's a large pile of elephant poop right on my blog page. I have large elephants, and small elephants, and medium-sized elephants. I write because if I don't, I'll surely toddle over into ... I don't even know what.

    I'm a pretty open book. Meet me, meet all my elephants. Sort of. There are elephants I'm very public about - losing both of my parents before I turned 27, living in Austin, loving my cats as much as I love my husband. Shh ... oh, who am I kidding? He already knows.

    There are elephants I'm honest about, but don't spend a lot of time addressing - I have mild chronic dysphoria. I've written about it once by now at Mental Health By Any Other Name and I've hinted around it in other places. It's part of me. By the way, I also have sort of chestnutty auburn colored hair. I don't talk about that much, either.

    And then, there are the elephants that I find myself 100% unwilling to share. Sometimes, those are the ones that want out the most. The elephants I keep behind the curtain are generally very closely tied to another person's story. Their stories are not mine to tell. I could tell my version, my side, but then that leaves their side untold, which is inherently unfair.

    Maybe someday I'll create an anonymous blog and unleash all those elephants. Until then, I'll write EPICly long comments on your posts. And talk about turds.

    All that to say, my dear, that your elephant trilogy is - dare I say - even more important than The Hunger Games trilogy. (Shh, don't tell Vesuvius or Green Goose!) Your trilogy is inspiring, thinky, thoughtful, motivational, and just mostly awesome. Like you.

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    1. I used to have chestnutty auburn colored hair, but now it has a big gray stripe in it. I write about that sometimes. But that's the point, I think. I write about my stripe in my hair instead of writing directly about my fear of getting old. Everyone has a fear of getting old, that's not very interesting. But not everyone has a glorious, prematurely white stripe in their hair to remind them that bodies are made to wear out.

      I totally agree about the stories that are tied to another person's story. Those are the sorts that stay silent in my writing, too. I can still get at what I've learned from those kinds of stories, without telling the stories themselves. Does that make sense? It's an acknowledgement of the elephant without exposing it to direct sunlight.

      Everyone has elephant poop everywhere. We should be like Green Goose and make candles from it and sell them on Etsy.

      And thank you for your high praise. I've never read the Hunger Games trilogy (mostly because so many other people are) but from what I hear, that's high praise indeed!

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    2. The Hunger Games, like Nutella, is one of those mainstream things that really is that cool. You'll get something different out of it than the masses did, for sure. But it's still a fascinating read - and very well written. Consider it.

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  5. "it comes from a drive akin to hunger." So incredibly true. I've been playing with an elephant in my mind, unsure of whether or not I can write about it. It squeals and stomps and demands to be written, but I'm dodging and ignoring all the poop. You've made me think a lot about how writing can be a relief. Perhaps it's time to let the elephant out.

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    1. I understand this phenomenon completely. These elephants have ways of making themselves known one way or another. Sometimes I struggle with which type of writing will bring the most relief - something private and sloppy, just to get it all out or something crafted for public consumption to turn that elephant poop into something useful.

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  6. Did someone say my name? Look, I think the M Half's write. These have been fabulous posts and have left me wordless. Excuse me while I go work things out in my brain and thank you, truly, for the food for thought.

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    1. Someone did say your name! It's one of the highest compliments one can give to tell me I gave them something to think about. It's so much better than: "Well there's 10 minutes of my life I'll never get back." Thank you.

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  7. You leave me speechless a lot of the time. That's why I never comment. I love all three of your elephants. I especially adore this one. You had me at "relief".

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    1. Aw, thank you! Glad you've enjoyed them!

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  8. I love the way the blog world works--we all kind of feed off of each other's creativity and I think we're all the better for it.

    As I said in the comments of my original piece, for me, it was not so much about publicly sharing those deepest, darkest issues as it was about exploring them privately both for the health of my writing and for my own health. I guess I feel that knowing the exact dimensions of those elephants and their individual and sometimes frightening characteristics would be helpful in some way. I think it goes back to a fundamental need to understand things with my mind, when probably I'd be better off just feeling them with my heart and moving on because heaven knows there's all sorts of things I'm never going to "get" with a rational brain.

    And, just for the record, that line about feeding the elephants and letting them poop all over? That's a damned epiphany for me. ;)

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    1. I completely agree with you. I, too, straddle that murky world between rational and emotional. A lot of my private writing is an attempt to sort emotions out logically. But even then, there are events, problems, emotions, etc. that I still find it very difficult to address directly. Hence the relief drawings. I get some relief from writing around the subject, but mostly just frustration and hyperventilation if I try to write them down directly. I don't know if that makes sense. I can think of 2 reasons I do this: first, I don't want to go back and re-read all that later and see what a basket case I am; and second, when things really need my inspection, the process of writing (and by writing, I mean scribbling nonsense in my journals) is too slow and distracting. Often I will come back and explore parts of things later when I've had a chance to think, but just the physical activity of writing it down is too cumbersome sometimes. Maybe that's just me. And always in the back of my head is: "What if my mom reads this?!"

      I think I will change my tagline to: Periphery - purveyor of poop and epiphanies.

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