Storytelling outdoors, Concord Library, 1970. Photo by Paul Ife Horne, under CC BY-NC 2.0.
I think the reason I’m finding this – the writing – so hard, is that I’ve (almost) stopped telling stories. I’m ready to defend – I’m also incredibly defensive these days, which is a whole other issue – the view that I’ve been a story lover and teller my whole life. Not just in printed, on the page form, or even flickering, on the screen form, but the sitting round a campfire form. Actually, screw that, that just feels like a cheap attempt to hark back to storytelling’s ‘primal’ roots, in order to heavy handedly signpost ‘this is meaningful!’. Lets go for ‘…but even the crap gossip over a cup of tea or a pint form’. The gossip I always tire off pretty quickly – see what an upstanding citizen I am? – but there’s almost always a thread of interest in what is being said, and I’ll tune in and pick at that. Often it’s of no interest to anyone else within 1,000 miles, but…
This caused quite a few problems, now I think about it, when I was a teenager in N.Ireland. My peers’ conversations seemed to exist mostly of small talk, and I was bored rigid; so I didn’t talk to them. I had way more interesting things to do, like read or write. Or, when I did take part in conversations, I had no concept of ‘faking interest’, so I would just stare off into the distance, unsmiling, until my radar pinged, and then I’d suddenly zoom in and speak. This, understandably, earned me several unflattering labels, including ‘snob’ (English accent, natch), ‘boring’ and ‘weirdo’. I just liked the good stories – why waste your time with anything else?
(To fit in, of course. Which I learned to do, and is something that I need to write a long, long post about – Oh yay! That’ll be a *fun* read, Erin – but I’m getting sidetracked).
Around the time I discovered geeks, and joined them, I also found I could make people laugh. It was an accident. I’d be quietly listening, as usual, in both adult and peer conversations, and I’d make a comment – something that seemed obvious to me, that solved the (often trivial – I was a *very* up-my-own-arse-whilst-also-having-horrifically-low-self-esteem child) point under discussion, and there’d be a pause. And then people would laugh. I seized upon it, and never looked back; fortunately, it only wandered into outright bitching for a little while – I’m just not strong/a dick enough to be a bitch – before it became storytelling. A moving, writhing, learning, testing, tempting, dishonest and gut-wrenchingly, vulnerably honest, affirming, dangerous, wonderful, wonderful thing. A skill, even. There you go, I just admitted I actually have a skill.
(I could write a lot more about this. I keep on doing this. Starting what I think will be small posts, and then they just keep growing, and spiralling off, a reflection of how my brain is working at the moment, and part of the reason I think my How should be: ‘Write. Leave for a few days. Re-draft. Leave for a few days. Re-draft. Post.’ Except if I do that right now, I wouldn’t actually *do* it. So, for now, it’s going to be crapper-than-they-should-be first blurting.
And I have a lot to do today, so I really have to go. I was jut aware I hadn’t posted anything in days, and the shame was building up, and I needed to write *something*.)
But I’ve realised recently that it’s either on hiatus, or I’m just not using it. The Great Depression of 13/14 stole it, or disabled it. I didn’t notice for a long time. I just didn’t want to speak at all. I didn’t have anything to say. Most days I still feel like that. I thought it would get better when I started travelling – I’m good (I should be, I worked my arse off to be so. See the ‘to fit in’ note above) at being (relatively) charming in a group of new people, and drifting the more interesting bits of me and my life into the conversation. Normally, you meet me for a night, or a day or so, and the majority of people think I’m great. And interesting. And funny. And someone they wouldn’t be stuck for conversation with. At least, I think so – I don’t think that’s a mistaken perception.
At the moment, I’m not doing that. I find conversation, of any kind, a massive struggle. Each sentence feels like it’s being mined, laboriously, from the smallest vein of ore that desperate miners keep working at, because all resources, as far as the eye can see, have been depleted – this is it, guys. So keep digging. I enter every interaction (spoken or written) with another human being knowing, *knowing* in advance I’m going to let myself down; there’s going to be at least one awkward silence; I’m probably going to let some comment go by that I shouldn’t, just because I don’t have the spoons to do anything (and I’ve been writing a post about *that* for some time as well); they’re almost certainly going to be relieved, or disappointed, rather than remotely intrigued or amused, when they depart. I seem to have the ability to turn the most open question into a yes or no answer, almost literally starting in disbelief at the words – ‘How the hell do you have nothing to say about that?’ – as they float out of my mouth. This happens a lot right now, as people ask me about myself, understandably. I *know* I have interesting things about me. I must do. But people ask me stuff, and I answer like I’m on the witness stand; the facts, and no more. Can I go now? I try to add things, to turn it into a little story, to put a couple of hooks out, so that if they do want to know more, they can ask, or if it makes them relate to something in their own experience, they can shift the focus back to them… but…..tumbleweed, dude. Sweartagod.
It came home fully to me, the other night, when I mentioned, off-handedly, something about drumming. The response showed that clearly, I had never mentioned this before. Which is nuts. The fact that I drum, and the people I do it with, are a big part of who I am. How had I not mentioned it to the people I’ve been around for six weeks? The good thing, the lovely thing, was that I then gushed about it, for about 20 minutes, pulling up rhythms and playing videos on my Mac. I talked about me. And it made me realise I hadn’t, really, at all, for the longest time. Which made me realise, thinking on that, that of course I have. I’ve talked about myself almost non-stop – BUT ONLY ABOUT THE BORING, BORING DEPRESSION ARRHGHGHGH. Post after post of what I call ‘whining’ in my bad moments and ‘Well, writing it out is helping’ in my good moments. It is all I want to talk about, because it’s all I seem to have the ability to talk about, because it’s all I know at the moment, and it’s all that comes easily. It’s a great, big, shining vein of gold, that I try, with every bone in my body, to turn my back on, conversation wise, interaction wise, expression wise, but that I end up hacking at, cos it’s the only thing there, surrounded by barren rock.
It feels like the depression has stolen my stories, and replaced them with itself. I write that sentence, and I feel my throat close over. Let me, therefore, write some more. I refuse to believe that. Or I refuse to believe that’s the end of *my* story. I was enthusiastic about something for a good 20 minutes the other night. I can find my voice again. It’ll be different, I’m a different person now. But maybe this is part of the process. Maybe, instead of being ‘Erin the Entertainer’, this period of opening my mouth and finding nothing is coming out, is part of finding out what it is I *really* want to say. And maybe that’s a bunch of bullshit to make myself feel better. I’m guessing we’ll find out. And in the meantime, there’ll be a lot more of me talking about this stuff – it does help. Hopefully it’s obvious that you don’t have to read it; hopefully it’s obvious that I know this is probably extremely boring to most people (including myself); hopefully it’s obvious I’m scared shitless that if I don’t ‘snap out of it’ soon, I’m going to drive what few friends I have left away. I need to keep doing it, though. So am just going to trust that it all works out in the end.
Sorry this is so bumble and unpolished. I’m really stressed, and moving house tomorrow, and trying to be charming and helpful to my hosts whilst hating every single sentence that comes out of my mouth, and making sure I just don’t. Fucking. Disappoint. Anyone. Including myself. Just wanted to make sure I put something up.