Writing About the Life Unlived

Writing About the Life Unlived

I am writing a book. I know it will take years of my life and years off it. Now that my self-imposed limit of dramatic and embellished proclamations is reached, it is best to simply speak.

The light bulb moment came not long ago upon unenthusiastically sharing another one of my scribbles. In the country of my birth, the practice of creative work without an outlet or courage to share it is said to be “writing into the desk.”  It felt no different that time as I squeamishly let someone close, who was detached enough not to indulge my ego, read some of what I wrote. The two sentences I heard in reply felt like a stiff double jab, “promise you won’t get upset but I must be honest,” followed up quickly, as if to avoid an awkward pause, by, “you write well but not from the heart.”  I responded dishonestly. A lifetime of practice dismissing vulnerability usually helped in such moments. Coming to terms with the revelation that the cloak of indifference didn’t fit comfortably anymore felt so visceral, however, that I couldn’t brush it aside. 

That was the origin of realizing and admitting that I actually care and prompted the scariest question of all, Why? The only answer that would suffice is fear, not of real or perceived failure but rather of unoriginality. Every experience which has shaped me, whether being of mixed ethnicity or growing up under the guise of a persecuted minority or being an immigrant in a strange land, even something as shattering as a mistaken cancer diagnosis, all of it has always felt indulgent and unworthy. What do I actually know? Coming of age as an empire begins to disintegrate and the arc of my potential life gets shaped by the aftermath?  Fighting to bring the opposing groups of family members together, in this case the Jewish and Muslim sides? Playing the role of the diplomat, trying to be the bridge between warring tribes? Was it not simply a child’s way of keeping the peace, a self-preservation instinct in action? What about the cancer scare, how can one think of something less uncommon and unknown than a malady of such universal scope, what is there more to say? Ah, such were the machinations of the insecure mind, more afraid to express than caring to contribute.  

It is only now that I feel I have no choice but to create but in the only way I know how: by conjuring up characters as composites of all those I’ve known. They become vessels for imagining and describing things I have not done. Perhaps, it is nothing more than hiding in their midst and telling my own story between the lines, a filter which feels safe.  For now, it will have to be enough.  I accept that nothing can ever be so unique to be told about, where fear of being exposed and found out would not be present.  If there is value and purpose in affecting people rather than impressing them, then not shying away from afflicting many in the process is the only honest path.  

In the observed life around us, people meet and touch each other so randomly and seemingly by accident. How can they connect that way if not through stories with common touchstones, relatable anecdotes, places of paths crossing and matching visions?  Nothing in us should be so original as to be unrecognizable in others. Hostility to not being so different was nothing but a defense mechanism. I felt more interesting in the peculiar and misunderstood role so it infused all I did and created. Nature is cunning and found a weak spot.  I’m not unique, even in the fact that I can only lie to myself for so long. The very thing that I used to wear so arrogantly and with an almost devious pride is what makes me most ashamed now. 

As we are haplessly flailing around in life, sometimes feeling important in our own little cliques, it is only by giving and using ourselves up to capacity that we can fill the spaces where emptiness terrifies us.  Rather than romantically longing for what could’ve been and better yet than the embarrassment for missing it, a life unlived must be mined for clues, patterns, and shapes from which honesty is ultimately built. For me, the place to begin was a blank page.