What is Your Story About?
When you write a book you take a sometimes mysterious journey into your mind, you string sentences together to form images and stories, and while doing this you don't tend to think about your "message." That, like the proverbial outline you're asked to create when you're in school, is for later, when you've reached the end of your story. Such is my approach .... Because creative works are by nature process, you often don't know the whole story until you've reached the end. Then the message will be clear. Hopefully.
In order to write the story of a life you must put your head down, stay relentlessly focused and unspool your narrative, whether that's about your time as a sad 8 year old waiting for your mother to come home late at night, or when you were far away from home and heard the horrible news of John Kennedy's assassination. You stay close. Once you've done all the unspooling, you get to return to the manuscript, read it and really hear the story, and then you start to clean it up, polish and tweak and extract, and make it the best story of your singular life that you can. At this point you're standing at a bit of a remove from the work, a bit like a detached observer. You look for and eliminate dishonest emotions, you peel away layers of verbiage you're in love with, language that makes you sound good, because you want after all to render the unvarnished and real person, warts and all. You need people to witness you as you are. This is both interesting and hard. But this need to be seen and witnessed is a universal one for us humans, and it is the reason that I make a point of looking in the eyes homeless people on the street.
When I was asked a question by my publisher, She Writes Press, about the "message" of my memoir, I remember feeling a bit confounded at first. I guess I thought it was self evident. It had been a while since I had been close to this book, and so I reflected on what drove me to write it in the first place. What I remembered after a bit was that this story was really about something as generic as "finding myself," not a particularly unique or sexy concept. But then I thought some more and realized that as a child I had been so sufficiently ignored and overlooked that during this first part of my life I had no idea who I was. I was an only child who wandered aimlessly through a chaotic adult landscape populated by alcoholics, a territory where my dreams and ideas were largely passed over, where I wasn't really seen or cherished. As I grew older I was instinctively driven toward people and relationships (sometimes with unfortunate results), hungry for comfort and love, and soon I began to embark on traveling the world so I could figure out how I measured up to people in different parts of the world, so I could see myself in different contexts and hopefully come to a sense of wholeness. This unconscious quest to identify who Mag Dimond was (is) forms the "through-line" in my memoir. Paul Theroux, the well known travel essayist, wrote that he traveled the world in order to discover himself, and when I read that the light bulb went on and I said, "yes!"
Without ever laying out a road map or game plan, I continued searching the world, and I discovered I felt connection with many people quite unlike myself, with different skin color, different language, different traditions and beliefs... By the time I became an elder, I could call myself a citizen of the world. I could also call myself: mother, grandmother, piano player, teacher, meditator, writer, gourmet cook, knitter, photographer, jewelry maker, and so on. The journeying had brought a myriad of new interests into my consciousness, and, like my grandmother who was my hero, I had wanted always to be a learner. With her as my inspiration, I continually fed my mind through reading, conversing, and traveling. And I became the character I am today.
And then there was spiritual practice. When I discovered that mindfulness could be a pathway to shed suffering and confusion, I felt an enormous sense of relief, because I had been carrying a load of suffering on my back for way too long, along with all those backpacks and other gear. I learned that I could sit with my suffering and unhappiness instead of fighting it, and thus lighten my psychic load. So this exquisite addition to my life allowed me to see more clearly, to be more present for all of life's experiences, and finally get what my story was all about. It was about witnessing, finding love and wisdom, and cherishing diversity in my world.
Bowing to Elephants will be published next fall (2019), and I will be very proud indeed to see it in print. A lot more will be said on this site in future about the emergence of this intimate and brainy story. In the meantime, I remain fascinated by how we discover our truths, and how we are able to find our essential connection with different peoples of the world. This connection is a beautiful thing - it's what gives meaning to our lives.
Searching, traveling, sitting quietly, asking questions, pondering, reading, looking intently, feeling the love and gratitude that lives inside us ... yes, this is what the story is about!