By Aubrey Allison
One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. –Annie Dillard
Not all of our writing makes it into something finished. Sometimes we’ll look back, matured, and be glad that those things never saw the light of day. Sometimes it was simply the wrong moment; you couldn’t yet do it justice, but later, after some other unknowable experience or insight, it will all be illuminated. The full story will click into place.
But it’s that one word—story—where I get caught. Because I’m not sure if that’s really what I’m trying to make.
The sentences below were mostly cut from old Word documents. They never became part of a whole. And I don’t have any new insights to add to them now, to finally transform them from fragment into story. What I have is an image.
It was just a few weeks ago when I walked into a gallery and saw the picture, the image of exactly what I had tried and given up on writing nearly a year before. It was a picture of a bird flattened onto a photocopier, its white throat laid bare against the glass, fragile, exposed.
It was what I was trying to say when I wrote about a dream I had:
In my dream I tilted my head back and the sun shined into my mouth, through my nose, onto the back of my throat like it was the wall across from a sunny window. I woke up with the same heavy, knotted dread in my chest that I’d felt for weeks.
It was what I was trying to say when I wrote about something a yoga instructor said years back, and how it was once again on my mind:
While we all arched backward, our heads, our backs, our necks stretching back, she said to the class that this is the most vulnerable pose—our throats are exposed. I suddenly felt that I was at the mercy of every person in the room. I leaned back further. “Arch up,” said the instructor, “and back.” Her voice was gentle, soothing. “Open up your throat.”
I wanted to tell a reader what happened when I woke up from the dream with the light in my throat:
I shined a flashlight into my mouth in front of the bathroom mirror and found a pattern of white splotches on my tonsils. Tonsillitis.
The splotches were white blood cells, evidence of my immune system at work. In a few weeks it wasn’t any better, so I assumed I’d be getting my tonsils out, which felt appropriate. It was a time of emptying, hollowing. Throughout these weeks I felt the way you feel when you’ve just finished a good, hard cry. Raw. But cleansed.
I wanted to tell a reader about my appointment with the otolaryngologist named Dr. Faith:
He peered into my throat, waved his hand, and told me there’s no reason to get my tonsils out. The body has ways of working these things out, he said in response to at least three of my questions.
I sat with my back to a window. The speckled white linoleum floors brightened and dimmed as the sun moved in and out from behind clouds. I asked, what’s the purpose of tonsils, anyway? If I got them out, what would I lose?
Dr. Faith shrugged and said the procedure itself is often more trouble than the tonsils are worth. The body has ways of working these things out. People get nervous about their tonsils because they can open their mouth and see when things don’t look right.
These are the paragraphs I kept typing, trying to weave them into whatever else I wrote, and I kept deleting, because they never quite seemed necessary to any story I told. I had no conclusions to draw from them. I still am not sure they mean anything more than a fragile throat pressed flat against a photocopier. I just wanted to see them on the page.
The above image was taken at Ann Hamilton's exhibition, the common SENSE, at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, Washington.
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