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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Identifying Your...

Multiple Personalities

A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fasten a halter, but which now you cannot catch...”
Annie Dillard (The Writing Life)

Annie Dillard describes the writing life as “a lion you cage in your study.” You give it daily due diligence out of respect for its individual life—a life that inhabits your body space, but does not lay down its autonomy to anyone. I'm not a published writer beyond this blog, but truly, it owns me. It shakes me from sleep saying, “Get up, we have work to do, pressing matters that must be fit into this time slot.” Then it finds what it wants to write about and off we go, with me merely punching the keys because I'm the one with the hands.

Sometimes, I go back at the end of the day and read what I wrote that morning, and think—really! You said that! When I worked on a novel, the characters regularly took left turns that were completely unplanned and unexpected. When I attempted to wrestle them back in line with my thinking, they became Helen Keller at the family dinner table in The Miracle Worker. They threw food at me and pitched fits. Annie Dillard says you must enter your study with a chair and a whip, yelling “Simba!” to reassert your authority over the lion—I just never had the courage to do that.

I guess all of us, and not just writers, have multiple personalities. We are one person with our families, and another in our workplace, another in our spiritual life. Like paper dolls, we slip on different outfits as we go through our day, becoming more or less formal depending on who we're with. I've been reading Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, and in them her characters speak in dialect to one another, some do not know Italian, and some use Italian only in certain circles. We, too, adopt different ways of speaking ourselves in the course of a day. Our innermost thoughts and our outermost words often come from different aspects ourselves, and say absolutely opposite things.

All of this is not to say that we are intentionally duplicitous creatures—only that we are not a singularity. We are far more than meets the eye. It's well to be aware of all the various personalities that reside within your particular framework—the good and the bad, the kind and the corrupt, the lamb and the lion. The problem is not that you have them, since we all do; it's just that when you are blind to some of them, they become dangerous. Like the lion in your study, they will bite you. And they'll bite others, too.

                                                               In the Spirit,

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