Recently, I’ve been working more seriously than ever on the opening chapter of my memoir. “More seriously” for a couple of reasons. For one, my editing work inexplicably dried up after the New Year, with the major advantage being that I’ve finally been able to hear my inner voice again.
The other reason I’ve been so focused on writing this chapter is that I’ve needed to throw myself into something creative and restorative after being attacked by a (sadly psychotic) neighbor and losing my apartment as a result; when your brain and body are still processing life-or-death-level fear, it helps to have somewhere peaceful to retreat to. Even if that peaceful “somewhere” is a memory. And — dare I say — creating my own place of peace, through writing, has been helping.
What I wasn’t expecting, however, is how magical committing to writing this chapter would be. In a weird way, the process seems to have been reshaping my world; as the weeks go on and I make creative strides, it’s been amazing to observe how vividly and concretely the past can return when you throw yourself into it. Life has been serving up an impressive menu of stuff from yesteryear that I never thought I’d see again.
First, there’s the fact that my temporary dip into homelessness landed me right back in one of my favorite apartments ever. A simple place, special for how deeply peaceful it is: a kitchen-cum-bedroom in a well-preserved Altbau, one that overlooks a peaceful courtyard, on a peaceful street, in a peaceful district of Berlin. Last time I left this apartment in 2017, I never thought I’d live here again; I couldn’t see how it could happen. Yet lo and behold, very unexpectedly, it did happen; when I lost my “long-term” home in the wake of the attack, I reached out to see if my old one was available, and it was — and I couldn’t be more thankful. (Bonus points for the fact that this home links multiple worlds: it marries an old building with a modern one, and it stands near the Berlin Wall — a veritable border between realities. So much real-life metaphor right here.)
A few days after moving back into my “long-lost” favorite apartment, I entered a convenience store with a friend, and there stood, inexplicably, a rack full of cases for the iPhone 4. This doesn’t sound so extraordinary? Listen:
I have an iPhone 4. I use it as an mp3 player, and I’ve always kept it sexily attired in a purple, gummy case (like any self-respecting phone should wear, let’s be honest) — until its case disintegrated a few months back in the cold of another German winter. I never thought I’d find a replacement for such an old model. And yet, right there in a random convenience store in the middle of Berlin, prominently hanging on a hook all by itself, was a purple, gummy iPhone 4 case. Naturally, I bought it on the spot. Another gift from the past.
A few days later, I was listening to Tom Petty on my newly-sexified iPhone 4, and the next “miracle”: some writing that I’d believed long-gone spontaneously came back to me. Last year, my word processor had crashed under a heavy editing load, taking my unsaved work with it (including the conclusion for the chapter I am working on now)… but it all narrated itself to me again out of nowhere in the middle of that recent afternoon, while I was simply walking around and listening to “Free Fallin’”. I was in awe.
This happens sometimes with writing; entire phrases and sentences come back, verbatim, when you think you’ve lost them. They come back because they already exist someplace, someplace timeless outside of you, and the universe whispers it all back to you as many times as you need — because THOSE are the words that are meant to be written.
Next, for a particularly meta example: this past weekend, a mystery song shuffled itself onto my playlist. Digging around in my purchase history to figure out how the hell that happened, I learned that I apparently downloaded the tune for free in 2006 — and must have immediately deleted and then forgotten it. It’s weird enough when a song banished to the deep past resurfaces spontaneously to say hello (through some kind of glitch)… but what made this so meta was the fact that the song was about someone resurfacing from the past. #mindfuck
And in the spirit of taboo-shattering TMI, I’ll even share this: I noticed the other day before my shower that I am regrowing QUITE the density of pubes, now that I’ve been on iron supplements for a while. I didn’t even know a lady-bush could wither from an iron deficiency, or that hair follicles LONG “dead” could turn back on and get right back to production like nothing ever happened… but apparently, yes, they TOTALLY can… and now I’m about 3 hairs away from a promising career in 1970s adult film (if writing doesn’t pan out…).
So I guess that’s also something.
But it’s not just in my external world that things are resurfacing. Of course not. Not just stuff like lodging, phone cases, music, hair. Also resurfacing — somewhat predictably — are inner “things.”
For example, writing this chapter has prompted me to remember old traumas. And old losses. And old grief for things I “lost” but never really “had” in the first place. Not just to remember them, but to FEEL them: it brought emotions back, more than just memories of emotions. And that has hurt like a bitch, holy fuck, and I’ve cried a lot — not for losing my work or my home (which is arguably more pressing?) but for emotional losses from ages ago… but hey, I guess that’s one of the perils of writing memoir. And perhaps that’s also one of its blessings: you remember, you process, and you heal.
Life has been “giving back” such a random assortment and abundance of very strange things at a very strange time, when it has just taken so much away — my work, my home, my stability — that now I’m also confronting old questions I thought I’d put to rest. Existential questions I used to wrestle with and find myself beaten down by. Life had grown just comfortable enough for a few years that I could forget these questions. Before I’d had stable work and a stable home, I’d bought into the societal lie that the not-having of material “success” was a mark of my failure as a person. When I finally achieved these things after my move to Berlin, I patted myself on the back, heaved a sigh of relief, and decided, Well, Laura, you’re figuring things out. You’ve grown. This must mean that you’ve become A Better Person.
In other words, I placed my self-worth in How I Was Doing.
But those markers of success — even modest success — are gone again, after achieving them had made me feel like I’d finally unlocked something crucial on the path of Proving My Worth… and so the same fundamental question has resurfaced from the past as well:
You have nothing to show for yourself in life yet. What does that say about YOU?
And what I’m finally realizing this time around is… it says nothing.
Because our worth as people isn’t about those things anyway.
So in the process of writing this, and the entire strange transition that this creative process seems to encapsulate — when things are disappearing and things long-lost are coming back — I’ve noticed there’s one thing that is new, and perhaps it is The Point of It All: the trust, this time around, that I am enough. Regardless of my circumstances. Work can disappear, “home” can become unviable, I could lose the security and all the attendant bureaucratic ease of a rental contract (something crucial in Germany), AND I could be too poor to sort it all out — can’t just throw money down on the problem and make it go away, nope, not possible. All these things right now — the modern foundations of a life — look like the swirl inside a snow globe, or maybe like the swirl of cherry blossom petals that carried on the breeze right to my window on Monday afternoon. All movement, nothing stable, the elements falling all around me.
But at least this time, I finally trust: I am enough. Life gets tough and confusing sometimes, but that is NOT a sign that I have failed. It is just a sign that I have grown enough to be ready for something new.
So when you devote yourself to your memoir, get ready. There’s no knowing what will come back, what will go, and what liberating truths you’ll discover buried under the foundations of your life.