For a few weeks now, I’ve been struggling with an essay originally composed in “list format”: Should I restructure it and erase the “inventory-like” nature of its arrangement? Should I leave it alone and let it die in its late stage of development?
What’s my motivation, anyhow?
Let’s see if I can determine the answers to these questions. I’m going to try, at least.
In David Blakesley’s review of Reinventing Rhetoric: The Dialectic of List and Story by John D. O’Banion, he states:
“List is the form of discourse utilized by logic or systematic thought; story is the form utilized by narratival thought… In their application, ‘List records scientific truth, with logic providing tests of a list’s accuracy and universality. Story embodies aesthetic ‘truth’ (meaning), with narration providing guidance in revealing and discovering such situationally-bound meaning.'”
Personally, I chose the “list format” because the emotional material within the essay was, and continues to feel, raw. For me, a list means I’m compiling ideas and notions in order to both realize and create something much bigger and a hell of a lot more meaningful. For example, earlier today I thought about all the fixings I’m going to need for “Friday Night’s Fajita Fete”, but it wasn’t until I actually started to write down a list that I realized, Oh yeah, I’m definitely going to need aluminum foil for the tortillas and seven more packets of seasoning because I know I’m currently out of aluminum foil and I invited thirty goddamn people to my house.
Memoirists are often cautioned to steer clear of writing about emotionally-charged, unnerving situations as they continue to unfold. This is because whatever can be learned from the experience likely hasn’t revealed itself; in fact, it might not appear for quite some time. I’ve been told by various sources that the default amount of time one should allow to lapse following trauma is two years. This theory had me thinking, So, once the requisite 24 months has passed, it’s okay for a writer to crack her knuckles and FINALLY sit down to release the repressed emotions via Word document, pounding on the keys as she taps into her anger, fear, and sorrow? Like this: I’ve been waiting for this day to unburden my broken heart. I’ve held on to these emotions so long that I can’t exactly recall where they came from. But never mind that…
This is why I think it’s okay to forego the “two-year rule” in order to convey one’s experience as it happens, as long as a certain amount of self-awareness and tact is maintained, PARTICULARLY when the trauma of the experience is confined to one’s imagination. Currently, I believe part of the reason I haven’t finished my “list form” essay is because I haven’t come to any final conclusion about myself. I’ve got to keep in mind that, at this point in the process, I’m looking at my situation the same way one looks at a brand-new 5,000-piece puzzle — my feelings about it include, but are not limited to, confusion and hopelessness, accompanied by occasional bursts of glee (i.e. declaring to the world, “Hey, I’m not feeling so sad about this today!” is like exclaiming, “Look, I found a corner piece! Progress!”)
Now, let me reveal my motivation for writing this essay. What is it that I hope to realize? Well, first you need to know what the essay is about. It’s about the concept of love to an addict, particularly in the first year of sobriety because, let me tell you, 12 months clean and sober ain’t shit when I’m FINALLY deciding on how I want to dress, what music I want to listen to, and what I want in a partnership with someone and, sheesh, in all reality, my emotions were just likely amplified this past year because I wasn’t quashing them with substances so when I loved this past year, it really felt like love and — you know when a baby sometimes smiles because he’s got gas? Well, maybe my reactions this year were all just a little bit off this year and I couldn’t define them so when I felt pain, I smiled and when I was happy, I broke plates on the floor. You know?
Something along those lines. Referring back to David Blakesley’s review: “List is the form of discourse utilized by logic or systematic thought…”, I found it cathartic and significantly more pragmatic to take the aforementioned italicized train of thought and turn it into a list. See below, the beginning of the essay:
1.) Love to an addict. It goes from bottle to cloud. From something tangible to something metaphysical. As time passed between me and the last time I got fucked-up, my obsessive thoughts shifted their focus away from the fading sugarplum capsules dancing in my head, in on the bright sun subordinately shining into my bedroom each morning. Waking up without pain — it felt so nice. But I was lonesome. More lonesome than I’d ever been before. In fact, maybe I’d never been lonesome before.
Maybe I’ll have to abandon this essay. But I hope not. I want to look back on it someday.
Also, you know, I’d like to have it around to show my girlfriend.