Flat on my face and a structural edit

I was in Richmond the other day after coffee with a friend. There we were, chatting our way to our respective cars, crossing the road without the benefit of a pedestrian walkway, and not concentrating.

Worse still, the moment I’d stepped out of the coffee shop, I decided the glare was too intense and fiddled in my hand bag for my sun glasses.

I was midway between putting on my sunglasses and replacing my ordinary ones when we reached the other gutter safe from the cars that flow along Bridge Road at unpredictable intervals, when my sandal with its thickened sole made contact with the edge of the gutter and sent me flying over it head first.

My friend, who watched horrified, said later that it looked as if I was trying to roll onto my side, perhaps to spare my wrist – the one I broke last November – the indignity of another break.

In any case, I fell on the side of my face and grazed my upper cheek under the eye and the side of my chin as well as giving myself a fat grazed lip. I also snapped the handle off my sunglasses.

Most of the damage has cleared a week later though my lip’s still sore.

I have a brand new pair of sunglasses to replace the broken ones whose frame lasted a good ten years. The break provided a good excuse for an update here. But it’s not so easy with my body.

Once you get to a certain age and start to fall over, break bones and the rest, the assumption is you’re on the way out, or so it seems when people look at me twice after I tell them I had a fall; as if I’m not to be trusted out on the streets again.

I can explain the details of this fall in full – I was doing that wonderful thing called multi tasking, too many things at a time – but it matters not.

If I had simply crossed the road without the fuss of changing to sunglasses or the animation of conversation with my friend, I suspect I would not have miscalculated the height of the gutter, which I’ve approached and taken accurately many times.

Greater concentration was the key to preventing this fall, not frail bones or a wobbly body. At least I hope so.

Which brings me to the effort of my structural re-edit of my book – the days of work that go into pulling this monster into a better shape – more narrative drive, more accurate sequencing, a stronger ending and all this against the pull of memory and of time.

It’s as if others, sit on my shoulder, mainly in the form of my siblings, who say to me, that’s not what happened; that’s not what it was like.

I keep telling myself that it’s my story, my version of events and not the only version.

I’m trying to be as truthful to my memory as possible but there are all these gaps and when they crop up, I plunge back into my memory store, concertina events from the past and let my imagination pull things together to offer a more coherent narrative that might not be as absolutely factual as some might demand.

Facts can get in the way sometimes – but I’m not trying to be a Donald Trump here with his ‘fake news’.

I’m trying hard to tell a story that allows for the emotional truth of my experience to shine on the page.

My unconscious leads me there, but my unconscious does not have the same sense of linear time my conscious mind has.

It’s the same for all of us. Our unconscious makes links in events that have a deeper resonance than mere temporality allows.

And so I struggle on battling the thought police who tell me to get it right in their terms or else.

As Paul John Eakin, the wonderful theorist on memoir and life writing tells us: ‘Autobiographers lead perilous lives.’

11 thoughts on “Flat on my face and a structural edit”

  1. Thought police be damned. It was your reality, and you should tell it so. But, be prepared to lose favor with some of them. Letting go of their facts is part of the process.

    1. I try to ignore the thought police, Joanne, but still they come knocking on my door from time to time and always manage to unsettle me. thanks for your encouragement. It helps to hold them at bay.

  2. I honestly can’t remember the last time I fell down. I live in fear of it and I really hate going out when there’s snow on the ground. I’m far from fragile so I’m not sure where this wariness comes from but I don’t remember feeling this way before my last breakdown so we’re talking a good ten years. I’ve lost track of how long exactly. It’s been ten years in my head for a while now. I find more and more I round things up or down to decades as if there’s no difference between being fifty and fifty-seven. Of course I don’t feel fifty-seven. There’s a line in ‘The More Things Change’ where Jim says, “I was forty, at least they told me I was forty and I have adopted that statement as gospel, although I looked fifty and felt sixty.” That’s me to a T.

    Jessica Bell sent me a copy of her memoir a few weeks back and I’ve written a review which I’ll be posting on Wednesday if I remember. It’s an odd review even by my standards but I think you might find it interesting because it’s more of a discussion of why memoirs are hard to write and how they can go wrong and I use her book as an example. Although she’s clearly put a lot of effort into being truthful I still got the feeling—and she admits as much herself—that she’s one step removed from many of the memories. We expect too much from autobiographers and are inevitably disappointed. That’s why I prefer couching my truths in fiction. Inconvenient facts can be remoulded to truths appropriate to the narrative.

    Facts are never enough. Even the justice system acknowledges that. It’s not enough to be able to prove that A murdered B. We want to know why. Why makes all the difference to the sentence. What was their motive? Were there extenuating circumstances? Was there malice aforethought or was it a crime passionnel? It’s easy enough to come up with theories that fit the circumstances but answers no matter how plausible are not always truths. I couldn’t tell you why I’ve done most things in my life and I was there. How much harder to say definitively why others said and did what they did.

    1. I look forward to reading your review of Jessica’s memoir, Jim, and yes, I also recognise how hard it is to get inside those memories and still keep the narrative going. You’ll recognise bits of my memoir from over the years so you already have some idea about it but still it might seem different coming as a whole. How can I say that when I recognise all the gaps? Still it has to be enough. No more falls for me. At least I hope not. Thanks, Jim.

  3. The indignity of falls. I am noticing my own vulnerability, esp life with cats, but I have yet to suffer as much damage as you, Elisabeth.
    I feel for you very much.
    As for my memory vs your memory. How can the same experience be filtered so differently by the same witnesses? (One day I might tell you about a simple crime I was witness to and the aftermath I still feel guilty/unheard about.)
    Now however, I am concerned about family members here in Australia I have never met, who would not even know I exist. What would they say if I was to describe my experience of their relatives? Could they sue me for libel? What about the missing pieces of our forebears if I was to join the dots a bit creatively for lack of facts?
    I will, you know.

  4. Trump has given the phrase ‘alternative facts’ a bad reputation, but our memories certainly record many alternative facts—and we’re not deliberately misremembering or lying. You’d know more than me that they aren’t like a video recorder, and they blur with time, it’s the nature of the beast.
    The improvements to your manuscript will be worth all this wrangling, Lis!

    1. I hope so, Louise, that all this re-working will pay off. I’m sure it will but still there are days – and doubts. As you of all people would know. Thanks.

Leave a Reply to Elisabeth Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *