October 5, 2004

REFLECTION on Getting Up in Green Bay

When I set out to write my narrative of moving to Green Bay, I hadn't planned on focusing on its spiritual aspects. I thought I would describe the challenge—and my response to it—in more secular terms of struggle and learning and experience. Seeing what the piece ended up looking like, however, reveals that the spiritual narrative is obviously a central force upon my memory of that episode.

Motifs of darkness crept into the narrative without premeditation. Of course, it was January in Wisconsin and naturally very dark, but the metaphor of darkness is convenient for the drama of my memory. For as many times as I invoke darkness, however, I didn't turn to its logical complement of light to describe the spiritual processes of prayer and faith. If I resisted that impulse, perhaps it is because my memories are spliced to the context of darkness visually and affectively. When I recall the scenes in my mind—clear and vivid still—they are defined by darkness and grayness, including the moments of spiritual "enlightenment." It is curious and interesting to me that light does not figure into the narrative. If I were to similarly narrate other moments of spiritual growth they probably would include metaphors of light. Is it my relapse to teenage angst that keeps light out of my narrative?

The details that emerged are striking to me as well. The memory of my dad's dinnertime prayers—one of the first memories that appeared in my mind as I started to write—seems to have influenced how the rest of the narrative goes. In recalling his sincere supplication, I appreciated anew his love and concern for our family. He is a gentle, and a pious, man. While I have told this story many times in many contexts, that detail of his prayers has rarely been a part of it. I think it has a great deal to do with how my story was shaped this time, and with how my experience turned out. Each time I tell this story, the experiences and the lessons learned assume a little more meaning. Whereas it bewildered and overwhelmed me at the time, reflection has revealed its meaning. Or perhaps reflection and retelling has given it meaning, created meaning from a set of events that, retrospectively, can be considered symbolically.

The other prominent details (my first encounter with our new house and the smell of that rotten apartment complex) are also surprises to me. Obviously my memory of those things is vivid, but, again, those details, while never forgotten, have never figured prominently into the story. Reading the story as a critic, I can't even tell what relevance they have, whether they do more than just provide some concrete images to ground the reader. Does my disappointed disgust with our house reveal a psychological state? Is the apartment odor a metaphor for my disdain for relocating? I'm quite sure that this tale isn't crafted carefully enough to claim any such effects intentionally.

For as much emphasis as I place on personal prayer, attending church figures into the story in a rather minor way, even though it was very important to me. My mother similarly takes a pretty small role despite the fact that she was my vigilant companion and champion.

I guess narratives like this tend to be narcissistic—neglecting many of the people around me—and my narratives tend to indulge in the nostalgia of the details. Hence the random assemblage of facts and trivia. However, the inclusion of these details points to the great importance of the context and conditions of our move. I see my experiences with the buy outs as my participation in the corporate culture of the 1980s. With it I secure my membership in the "Victims of 1980s Corporate America" club.

My first response to our new house is a moment I am still particularly ashamed of. My parents were really crestfallen and I have always felt guilty for my instinctive response. I really don't think that I even thought it was a bad-looking house. The combination of the stress of the move and the instant of just waking up after a long drive generated such a response. In addition to feeling guilty for making my poor parents feel bad, I think I know that it was untrue and there is nothing that bothers me so much as telling a negative lie when there was absolutely no reason to. Why didn't I just say, "Wow! It's big!" That was probably what I was thinking.

In addition to Dad's prayers, I also really remember the way that he worried for those several months. He didn't eat well, he lost weight, and I was unsettled that one of my life's pillars seemed so weak. Here again is perhaps another reason for why I take time to comment on his anxiety: in a moment when he appeared particularly weak, he was actually quite strong. His humility and submission lead him to rely more particularly upon Providential protection, a pattern I so admired that I imitated it when I was in my own moment of distress. This most recent retelling of the story highlights for me how vital my relationship with my father was and how critical his example of faith was to my survival.

Constructing this narrative has been a provocative experience of really constructing what I believe about this particular event in my life. While the lessons that I take from it now do not differ radically from my previous perceptions, there are nuanced differences in how I perceive it. I suppose that is one lesson of literacy in general and storytelling more specifically: they are practices which create identity.

Posted by ogde0004 at October 5, 2004 7:49 AM