Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Telling hard stories

The journal entry that became a book

My book comes out next month. And I think I should be excited. And I am, a little. But mainly I'm just scared.

Scratch that. Not scared. Terrified. I sort of want to hide in the bedroom and not come out of it for the next few months. Which is terribly ironic since the book I've written is about having a major breakdown and having to spend a few months being in places that were safe and a bit hidden away from the rest of the world.

And that, as they so ineloquently say, is the thing. I've written a book, and somehow gotten it published, which is a miraculous and amazing fact which most days I can't even comprehend I have the privilege of saying.

I've written a book, but it's about a tremendously difficult and, to be honest, embarrassing time in my life, a time that felt like failure after failure. I pray this book will communicate something about healing, something about wholeness, something about hope, but I'm not 100% sure it will do that, while I am 100% sure that it talks about a lot of pain and hurt and self-destruction, and also I'm 100% sure that if the book is anything like this blog, which it surely must be, that it will involve a whole lot of run-on sentences and weak diction that would make my high school English teachers mad at me.

(Should I find my high school English teachers and tell them I've written a book? Should I add that to my "now it's time to try to sell this book" to-do list? Oh gosh.)

I'm currently wracked with boring self-doubt, an experience I'm sure anyone who's ever written a book (or for that matter a note to someone they like) has had. Writing in order to share writing with others is an experience of excruciating vulnerability. This is true even if one isn't also haunted by the added layer of painfully specific doubt that accompanies a book about mental illness and suicidal ideation and self-harm.

Should I have shared those particular personal details?

Should I have included more explicit and specific warnings about approaching content that has the potential to be triggering for someone with a similar experience?

Will my book help anyone?

Will my book do more harm than good?

Should I warn people off from reading it, exactly the people I had in mind helping when I decided to write it?

Should I have written this thing at all?

It's enough to land a guy in the psych ward. Oh, wait...

I doubt I'll ever have answers to these questions, really. Of course, I doubt all manner of things, and on some rare days, while I doubt, I also hope and love and trust. John Wesley once wrote about the "Almost Christian," a term he meant pejoratively or at least critically. I am beginning to embrace the phrase as an accurate self-description. Most days. Most days.

But answering these questions, not to mention the shallower, sillier questions -- Will this thing sell? Will anyone really want to read it? Will it succeed? Will I be allowed to write another one? Why would I ever want to write another one? When do I get to write another one? -- isn't why I wrote. It's not why I decided to tell, in whatever fragmented, limited way I can, this piece of my story.

It's a hard story to tell, and I don't really now how not to tell it, and I don't know that I ever have known.

Telling our stories honestly and well is hard. I don't know if I'm good at it, and I do know that even if I am good at it there are only rare days where I'll feel good at it. Those days I'll accept as a gift, but I can't just sit around and wait for them to come. A person can dissolve in that waiting.

And so I will tell, and share, and doubt, and hope. I can't tell you to do the same thing. Perhaps your story is too jagged right now for you to touch. Perhaps it is a burden that you need to set down for awhile before picking it up in this difficult manner. Perhaps there are too many risks. Perhaps you are just too tired.

If I understand anything, it's being just too tired.

And perhaps when you read this, or when you read pieces of my story, you will say to yourself, "Easy for him to say, protected as he is by privilege and by ease." And you will be right, in many, many ways.

It is scary, and weird, and vulnerable, to tell our hard stories.

Somehow, somehow -- reaching out for connection, hoping to offer healing, or at least companionship, the bare whisper of "you are not alone -- we tell them anyway.

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