What Is That Bubbling up in the Middle of Your Grilled Cheese?

I have long wanted to write fiction, but it seemed that with every story arc I tried to write, my untold self would somehow elbow her little self into the protagonist’s way. She was constantly upstaging the main character. Photo bombing whatever scene I was trying to sketch.

I shushed her. Minimized her. Told her that she didn’t matter. I kept her invisible and silent…for many more years than fundamentalism did.

I didn’t know what to do with her or how to keep her protected–or me protected. What if her words and presence were an embarrassment or made people angry? My friends were baffled at my inability to write because I was a successful collaborative writer. I could write other voices just fine.

I needed therapy, someone who knew. It was then that I discovered Natalie Goldberg.

Don’t you love reading words written by another that perfectly articulates something bottled up inside or banging around in your own head? Goldberg did that for me. In her book, Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, she says:

A writer’s job is to speak. …Sometimes you are not willing or ready to reveal things you have written. That’s fine. You may never want to, but I’d encourage you to write them down, to examine them, then bury the notebook if you want, but don’t let those things pollute your other writing. And they will. Whatever is hidden or secretive will look for a way out. You’ll write about a grilled cheese sandwich and bubbling up in the middle of the cheese will be incest, deception, and adultery. Claiming it, exploring it will free you. It doesn’t always mean you have to make it public.

And there it is.

I put every other writing project down and started attending to this little girl who wanted her own voice. I let her crawl up on my lap and bang away at the keyboard. She grew stronger and after several months passed, a memoir began to take shape. She did have a story worth telling and now it belongs to her.

The other day I sat down to write a new piece of fiction and was amazed at how free I was to explore the main character without interference. She was someone totally “other”; nothing bubbling up in the middle. It was a good day.

Any of this ring true for you? What keeps showing up; and when it does, what is your remedy?