telling the story of a soul?

How much can be portrayed about someone in words?

Biographies and autobiographies can be fascinating, but can still be filled with bias and, as has to be the case, gaps.

There are always the gaps. Because not all of life can be put into words.  I would go so far as to say that none of it can pinned down entirely in words, no one feeling completely explained, translated and therefore understood by all who read about it. Because we all say things in different ways, and we all say different things. And we all translate things differently.

I don’t keep a regular journal these days, as some do; my journal has little flushes of words – usually quotes from books I am reading and additional notes if I am inspired, thoughts that strike me that I do not want to forget, or splurges of self which come, usually, from a time of difficulty.

In other words, I use it when I ‘need’ it.  I wrote down, in one such journal, that anyone reading it would get a very one-sided view of me. They would think I was always in despair, or doubting, or struggling with a recurring issue!  But check the ‘distance between the dates’ of entries and it would become clear that most of my life has not been written down. Partly because my need is less when life is more routine. Partly because the lessons I learn often take place in the ‘darker times’.  Partly because, I suppose, I am a writer, and write things in different places, not just in one notebook – not all of it personal or private; I might share it with others. I chat with others, share with my friends. Stare out of the window of the train, thinking thoughts that go unrecorded.

Last time I was out-of-the-window staring, the other day in the passenger side of a car, it seemed strange to me that the thoughts I was having – thoughts about ‘life, the universe and everything’ were there only in my head, in that moment. And they were gone, never to be noted, never to be remarked on.

But despite being a writer, I can’t write them all down.  Not just because that would be impossible – I would need to invent a way of translating thought on to paper/screen with no intermediary device whatsoever – but because they are not full thoughts, they are still maturing. I can’t even begin to grasp them, let alone explain them.

I suppose this is why I wince should I read one of my teenage diaries.  Even then I was aware of it.  I would try to explain something and yet on the page it looked not just cheesy and silly but untrue. It was exasperating.

I still have this problem, especially the issue of truth telling.  Because not all truth can be pinned down in words, either, and my word-guesses are not quite right either.  I’m driven to simile and to metaphor, but those comparisons also bring baggage with them, meanings that I don’t want.

I try to tell the truth, write the truth, but it still doesn’t look right. I still haven’t ‘got it’. I feel like I am playing a part, trying to explain another character’s thoughts, not my own.

What am I trying to say? (Ha! Case in point.)

How can you tell the story of a soul?  How can we ever be known by each other, or know each other? What gaps have we not seen?

I wonder what historical figures have been ‘re-created’ out of lopsided stories; I wonder what motives we have never seen or known; I wonder what trivialities have been blown completely out of proportion, based on one moment of a life.  

Likewise, I wonder what profundities slipped past unnoticed; soul-defining features that were never recorded.

By Lucy Hannah

Lucy is a mixed media artist with a particular interest in acrylics and feltmaking. She is also an experienced writer and editor.


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