By Rebekah Hall
I look to books for how they will enlighten me, for how they offer unexpected visions or explanations. They are both interpreters and fortune tellers – the precision of a sentence known to change lives.
The most recent addition to my book deck is Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir, “The Chronology of Water.” Though our pasts differ, her words mirror my experience of living so sharply that I wonder if, somehow, we share the same fate. She calls herself a misfit and I find comfort in this shared space where we are all damaged and strange and disappointed. The book begins with a specific loss: “The day my daughter was stillborn […] I held the future pink and rose-lipped in my shivering arms, lifeless tender…” In her particular tragedy, she captures the heartbreak of countless other tragedies. That moment when one must release one’s expectations of a “pink and rose-lipped” future. She bleeds, cries, vomits. And then she loses herself in a fantasy she is not ready to end – she pretends that her baby is alive and well at home.
The ablution of experience exposes the hard-edged truths about ourselves, about life. As Aristotle said, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Awareness breeds new experiences, widens the scope of our knowledge, which leads to experiences once unimaginable. And yet, the side effect is madness. We can no longer pretend we don’t know, but still must hold onto the hot blades of awareness while we maneuver past the fantasies thrown at us. For Yuknavitch, a swimmer, she uses water as metaphor to navigate this space. She writes: “Little tragedies are difficult to keep straight. They swell and dive in and out between great sinkholes of the brain. It’s hard to know what to think of a life when you find yourself knee-deep.”
Reality is an ocean, uncontainable, always shifting. With the sea at our ankles we fiercely navigate riptides, we must stay awake inside the cold rush of knowing things. How do we find our bearings? Where do we drop our anchors?
We use language either to explore and reflect – as the best writers do -- or deny and thereby diminish both ourselves and our stories. Board-approved textbooks perpetuate familiar myths. Ad campaigns promote uniformity. The media froths with rabid, inciting reports that over-simplify events. Bite size explanations fit so easily into our mouths. These are the kinds of stories that pull our bodies under. This kind of language thrusts our heads deep into the sand.
Yuknavitch’s memoir investigates disorder, the lack of cause and effect. Everything does not happen for a reason. Taking all the right steps does not guarantee you go from point A to point B. Occasionally I feel as if I’ve taken too many steps in the wrong direction and must backtrack. We use the term “mid-life crisis” as if changing course is traumatic. What if decisions are questions and experiences are paths appearing before us? In the end, is it disorder that enlightens us? Yuknavitch writes, “Have endless patterns and repetitions accompanying your thoughtlessness, as if to say let go of that other more linear story, with its beginning, middle, and end, with its transcendent end, let go, we are the poem, we have come miles of life, we have survived this far to tell you, go on, go on.”
Rebekah Hall writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is a cofounder and coordinator for HI typ/O Salon, a Chicago-based, multidisciplinary artist collective.