"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

memory as agency

Now Playing: Bad Blood by Taylor Swift (it's so sad to think about the good times, you and I)

In my younger and more vulnerable years I was always terrified that nobody would remember me, that I wouldn't become some Big Famous Person, that I would die or sink into disrepair before My Time Had Come.

(if I sound like a nihilistic self-absorbed narcissist with delusions of grandeur, it's because I was)

And as if to confirm my thirteen-year-old self's worst nightmares, I'm currently at uni in one of the busiest libraries and one of my biggest bullies at high school is sitting right next to me and he does not recognise me.

But I spend a lot of my time these days thinking introspectively, nostalgically reminiscing over beautiful and beautifully fleeting moments and haunted by ghosts from my past, and I realize how much people are afraid of me not because they remember me as something Great and Awesome and Formidable, but rather afraid of what I remember.

In my time as both a nerdfighter and an English student I have learned about the silence of trauma, both in horror genre fiction and in real life. I learned that pain demands to be felt, and that pain defies language. I've spoken before that the cruellest part of emotional abuse is that gaslighting erases your memory and erases your ability to articulate your needs and rights and leaves only silence and doubt and the idea, but not the recollection, of pain. But there are a lot of things that I can remember, and as something of a relatively talented writer, I have through poetry and essay and reading obsessively found ways to put words to my pain and also to my pleasure and frustration and happiness and anxiety and that, I think, terrifies people.

Memories are not, by nature, objective records of the past. They are elaborations of summaries stored in a brain that is by no means a proficient curator of thought; In our nostalgic recollections of the past we tend to dwell on moments of intense emotion, but I don't think that is a bad thing; everything is biased, including really dull and obnoxiously authoritative law textbooks, and we are no different.

But what I do remember, of a lot of people, is not kind. A lot of people were not kind to me, which is okay, you know - I'm made of pretty strong stuff. But in the words of Anne Lamott, you own everything that has happened to you; and you own those things in the way that you remember and articulate them. When your reputation changes wildly in a very short space of time - from high school loser to moderately notorious arts student - people change how they treat you, but I always remember the feelings and emotions and euphoria and hurt that flashed through my smaller self in ways that I mostly could not handle.

I've been a writer all my life and a public writer since I was twelve, and I've always found this very obscure blog with its very small audience to be a source of agency for me; at home, away from the people who hurt me, I can write whatever I like about them and they can't stop me. I often liked to sneer, to heartbreakers and hair-pullers, that everyone has a story, but it's my story that counts; and in a way, that's true, because I'm the writer. And when I run into ghosts at uni, a long way away from my battered, scraped-knee, snotty-nosed child self, I see shock, and then begrudging acknowledgement, then fear. Because as much as we become different people we hold on to the same memories and those memories are powerful.

Like many bullied kids, I spent a lot of my childhood feeling powerless and helpless and therefore deeply resentful; of the kids who bullied me, my teachers who either bullied me or did very little to stop bullying as a systemic problem at school, and the frustration of being a kid and of being a person who didn't have the words or the nerve or the strength to fight back - and the few times I did fight back were instantly punished. I'll never forget the time I was made to apologise to my bullies. I'll never forget my Year 8 Science teacher who told me that I was useless or my Year 12 Politics teacher who said I would never get into uni. I spent a lot of time fantasizing about hurting my bullies or at least saying something super clever and snarky to their faces but I've come to the realization that people are genuinely afraid that I remember things, and that I write, and that I'm not a huge fan of forgive and forget. What happened in the past is thoroughly in the past for me, in that they don't hang in moments or places as panic and dread on a daily basis in the way that other things do, but that doesn't mean I'm necessarily going to give you a clean slate for free. But there is power in that, in remembering. Because holding people accountable isn't just cathartic and deeply satisfying; it is the only way to show people that easy targets sometimes grow up into people you can't push around anymore.


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