The Writing Life: Writing is simple; all you have to do is sit at a typewriter and bleed by William Henderson

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Someone once said that writers write the stories that they badly want to read. These stories that writers write in order to read the stories they badly want to read are the stories that writers remember. Sometimes the words are overwhelming, if only because they often live inside for so long. These words become memories of events that have or haven’t happened, depending on the writer’s genre: nonfiction or fiction. These memories – our memories – inform who we are and what we do. Stories evolve, meaning we cannot contain one truth. Truth evolves. Stories evolve. We evolve.

Telling and retelling the story of a relationship, the story of love, is like talking about our dreams. Fragments, remains, whispers of what played in our heads while we slept.

Jeanette Winterson writes that the story of love is the story of you with and without someone, and you with and without yourself. And in dreams, she writes, the two parts can merge: The soft tangle of a body alone in bed; the privatest part of a life, when you have no choice but to relax into who you are. Sleeping is a secret. You never know the revelations that your loosened, floppy shape, will reveal – unintended words or murmurs of dreams you never had

The writer must be true to truth, said Joseph Campbell during a series of interviews with Bill Moyers, which means that you have to admit to – and capture – imperfections, and you must admit to and capture these imperfections perfectly. The imperfections of life, Moyers said, are lovable. Capture these imperfections – and what else can love be but, at times, an imperfection – and you must hurt, yourself or someone else. But these hurts go with love, which, I know, is circular.

Memoir writing can be seen as the ground upon which these types of battles – struggles may be a better word –play out. Writer against subject. Writer against reader. Writer against writer. Truth evolves. Our memories evolve. Only after can you tell what is and isn’t important. Only after can you see what could have been done differently to lead to a different – if not better – outcome.

Moyers: We all need to tell our story and to understand our story. We all need to understand death and to cope with death, and we all need help in our passages from birth to life and then to death. We need for life to signify, to touch the eternal, to understand the mysterious, to find out who we are.

Campbell: People say that what we’re all seeking is the meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

I worry that the words in my head, the words on the page, in front of you, for you, will fall far short of what I want these words in my head to accomplish. What words would you use to describe the process of building a life with someone? Tell me the words you’d use because the words I use pale compared to the excitement inherent in drawing blueprints of tangled and twinned lives, and following maps from here to not-here, wherever not-here might be.

Words cannot completely contain the sensation of loving, hating, missing, and mourning. Words are not enough. Writing about love is not enough. No matter how many words I use, no matter their order, there is not and never will be enough.

Shape the story of you – of you with and without – in a way that has a beginning, middle, and end. Can you do it? But the story of love has no real end, does it? Love, unlike matter, can be changed, taking on one form, then another, then another, until what was once love between two men who pledged forever and for worse or for better twists itself until neither is able or willing to say anything to the other. They, we, release the love we felt, knowing that there is another man waiting to receive the love we have. The love we will give has been shaped by what has come before, by who has come before. The love I have to give, that I will give, is what remains. And what remains will multiply and divide and multiply again, taking on the shape of that relationship’s story, leading to words inside my head that will become memories that will become truth that will simply become.

william hendersonWilliam Henderson is a contributing writer to Hippocampus Magazine. He has written a memoir, House of Cards, from which 27 excerpts have appeared in literary journals and magazines. He writes a weekly column for Specter Literary Magazine, Dog-eared, and will be included in two forthcoming anthologies: The Other Man and Stripped. He is a full-time writer, takes care of his two children, and is working on a second book.

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