As I contemplate the direction of the Soul section of my writing project, I see that there are so many things one can cover. What is soul and what is the soul? What is soul in terms of artform and what is the soul in terms of human form? What makes us who we are? What are the common links that make humans human, and what are the unique ingredients that make one soul distinguishable from the next?
To explore some of these questions I pulled some exercises from a fabulous book on writing memoir and one such exercise asks the reader to tell the story of her life, giving herself ten minutes to complete the task. Serious stuff! I’m game. My Life In Ten Minutes. Go:
Well there are details like how I was born in Seattle and first lived in a tiny two bedroom brick house with a dobermin puppy and my mom and dad and my brother Billy and some goldfish and rabbits, and a strawberry shaped toy box. And how we moved in with my grandma while our new house was being built, and how vast and mansion-like this new house seemed, with its extra rooms—I had a room just for toys! And the mysterious green forest across the street from us and the other that I explored that was just one house down from us.
And then there are details about school and being the quiet one, the short one, the youngest one in the class, the smart one, the “gifted” one that the teachers liked, and then shortly later one of the only black girls in the class, one of many “gifted” students and. And how I put quotes around that to this day because from this experience I learned how children are tracked and segregated and some are made to feel special and others are made to feel mediocre, and these expectations are set and most of the time we live up or down to them, depending where we fall. And how in school I generally liked boys who didn’t like me but once I liked Jeff Zimmerman and he liked me back, but he was white and I was afraid, even in the third grade, to understand whether that meant anything of any significance at all.
And then there are details about what kind of child I was, like how I wrote in a journal from the age of 8 and how my mom was tall (5'10") and elegant and I always thought I’d be tall too, and how here I am, 5’4” and all, but that’s an inch taller than I was when I went off to college so I guess I shouldn’t complain. And mom would always tell me I should be happy to be petite, that it means I can date anyone of any size or height, but how I used to only date tall boys/men.
And there’s how my mom died when I was 21 years old and she was 49, of breast cancer, and ever since then I’ve been petrified of breast cancer and convinced that every single secret vice or indulgence or sinful thought or selfish act will ultimately lead to my demise from breast cancer. And how my dad died when I was 26 and he was 56, from lung cancer, and how I was absolutely furious at God and the world and confused and missed my daddy and was utterly pissed off because we had just now started to “get” each other, and I had just now started to accept the past in terms of him and mom, things I couldn’t change but had held onto in bitterness for so long.
And how I went to law school but got on the plane from Seattle to D.C. to start the first year and from when I stepped into the airport terminal in Seattle I knew something wasn't right. How I endured the first year and now carry many scars from the experience but also some medals of honor. How I finished and saw my dad smiling with pride there at graduation. And how I had moved to New York and not taken the firm gig and thought this was a pivotal moment in my life but also found myself sucked in to New York City in a way that didn’t exactly nurture my spirit but if nothing else did earn me yet a few more stripes and give me some adventure and some laughs and many funny “remember the time when” stories to share and review with my friends.
And how when dad died I moved back home to Seattle and took a job that I liked but knew that wasn’t the end of my story, but just the beginning.
As for the future, I see many possibilities, but I suppose the optimal is: I then move on to grad school and become a published writer. I become a professor of African American studies and a writer of poetry and essays and short stories. And I write and profess and mold young minds and speak about and think about and meditate on and write about blackness and identity and creativity and soul. And I learn languages and travel and marry a wonderful man and am not afraid of cancer or life anymore. I drift into public service, helping shape education policy and reforming public schools. I’m not beaten down tired by work—I serve thoroughly and with love and diligence and I am energized and refreshed and happy and in love with life and work and all of it.
And when it’s time to retire, I don’t. I keep going. I am consulting, teaching, and always writing, because it’s my life’s work, my lovework. So I don’t mind, in fact I would mind not being able to do it.
And I have at least one child and he or she is a good person. And I remain close with my nephews and niece and I meet their children and love them like a grandparent would love a grandchild.
There are the details and the accomplishments and the paths I take in career, love, geography. Is this my life story? I think there’s more I have to say about who I am. More at the end of it all that I would want people to know. Like I am a person who loves people—who really does try to see the goodness in people and sometimes this means that I see people for their potential and not for their reality and sometimes this means I open myself up to people who do not mean well, and I don’t really care, because usually it means I open myself up to good people. Like I am a person who someday (at the age of 28 perhaps, if I get on it quickly enough) learned to say no when I needed to, but remained willing to say yes when I really needed to even if I didn’t want to. Like I am an artist and a person who values creativity and difference and authenticity and loyalty to who you are. Like I’d love to be a good storyteller, I mean spoken stories. I’d love to be the person people gather around and listen to and laugh with, although the thought of this simultaneously freaks me out because I don't like to be the center of attention unless I'm teaching or performing spoken word.
Truthfully, I can’t really see my life story past age 50. I hope that’s just because I’m too young to see that, and I have trouble seeing beyond five years down the line. I hope it's not that my parents’ short lives have impeded my ability to see the possibility that God’s plan is for me to live a long, beautiful, prosperous life. I appreciate that I don't take this for granted and that I know God's will is His will, but I hope I also don't go too far into limiting the possibilities.
The mysteries of time and place and other future details aside, my plan for this life, what I truly hope to be able to say in my “story of my lifetime” is that I served God well in this lifetime, and humanity too.
What's your life story? It's okay to give yourself a little more than ten minutes to write it out.