Sitting down to write this post took an enormous effort of will. I finished an online creative nonfiction course a few weeks ago and I stopped writing regularly as soon as my final essay was complete, so it’s been maybe two months of unexpected and welcome relief. For the last two years, writing about my experience in the prison has been a release of sorts. It helped capture my thoughts and feelings, although it’s unclear whether it helped me release either but probably not. Nothing short of a complete separation would have accomplished that feat.
Today, I’m close to eight months away from my last day at CCCF. Most of these last eight months have been spent de-toxifying from my time there, and learning how to operate as a normal human being again. Those years, combined with the years of stress and uncertainty preceding them had turned me into an anxious, brittle, and fearful woman. I had some success hiding just how anxious, brittle and fearful I had become, but I was never able to hide it from myself.
Those years ate my light; they consumed everything I knew of beauty and grace and joy and spirit.
Lately though, the writing has been pressing on me, memories lingering in my consciousness. The stories of my time there, my relationships with the women I taught, and observations about the system constantly break the surface, jarring me with their presence. I can shove them back under, but they are still there. I’ve asked the non-intellectual part of my being to grieve and celebrate this enormous transition and it’s been thrilled to comply, so I’ve been processing mainly through art these several months. But as much as I love exploring drawing and illustration for emotional release, I cannot tell these stories through that art. Words are my medium, and the words are softly demanding my attention.
I just don’t know how to start again.
Being away from all that pain and suffering makes it less immediate, and reduces the feeling of urgency. That voice that demanded, constantly, that I let people KNOW and do my part to change the system has quieted. It rouses occasionally, but it is lackadaisical, at best. I’ve stepped away from all the information sources that used to stimulate my awareness, deliberately choosing to set all that pain to the side. It is a position of privilege, but I cannot bring myself to feel shame or guilt about this choice.
I feel light and happy and safe. Work doesn’t feel like much work, it’s a delight to do something less fraught, where a mistake won’t mean drastically increasing someone else’s suffering. This new path is a great gift, and all I want to do is enjoy the days, do art, and drift. Even thinking about writing that story feels hard.
I’ve realized that almost all the writing I do is somehow related to suffering – to trauma and oppression and the misery of the world. When I think about writing a memoir, whether it’s about CCCF or not, my thoughts focus on the sad and miserable things that brought me to where I am today. How do I write about all of those things – feelings, events, circumstances, choices – without putting myself back in that grueling, grunting space? It’s not a matter of self-judgment, it almost feels like self-preservation.
How do I stay connected to this precious gift of light and space and relief if I’m writing about those pain-soaked years? I know they are part and parcel of who I am, but I’m ready to write a new story about myself. How do I hold this new facet, and gently touch and release the old?