catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 11 :: 2012.05.25 — 2012.06.07


Glad to be “Unwritten”

I used to think that if I didn’t know what the past, present and future of my life story were, then something would implode or spin out of control. Defining life would help me hold onto my dominion. I could avoid the dizzying descents and ascents that characterized my life when I dared to imagine living it beyond a plane of mediocrity and “niceness” that become a damnable default mode.

Back then, it felt critical to have the pages of my life’s book filled with a story that fit between “once upon a time” and “the end,” the spine tightly applied, the binding glued and taped, and a title embossed upon it.

Then my story could be shipped off to where too many good stories go to die: to a library, where an officious, pasty librarian would apply a Dewey Decimal number to the spine, and the book would be filed away by a surly teenager doing community service, never to be seen again.

I wanted my story to be filed away in a neat category so I would know exactly what sort of story it was. At the most basic level, my story would go in the 922 Biography section (under “C” for a few years when my name was “Campbell,” and then moving to the back of the proverbial line when I married and became a “U”), just another life wrapped up.

Yet I was entering into that process far too early, for life has, in one sense, just begun, and I was ready to say where the story should and would go, simply because I found it more tolerable to settle for a known story, even a potentially mind-numbingly boring one, than to live into a risky, unknown future with unwritten chapters.

Then, a few years ago, I heard Natasha Bedingfield’s song “Unwritten,” and it ripped the cover off of my perfectly preserved little story, hermetically sealed in library plastic, categorized far too incompletely in the “U” section of the biographies in my local library.  When I heard her singing, “Drench yourself in words unspoken; live your life with arms wide open. Today is where your book begins; the rest is still unwritten,” I had to pull over the car I was driving, for I lost my breath. I’d been on a journey of exploring the themes of my life, wondering about the confluence of some of them, watching streams converging, wondering where it was all going, and her words hit me hard.

I’d long been a student of story, a curious soul in search of my own story’s narrative arc, but until I heard the words of that song, I’d not accepted the necessity of blank future pages that I can move into with pen in hand, of a semi-blank future I could move into with openness, but no idea what would be written. I love the idea of writing into our questions, of finding out — by writing — what it is that we want to know in life and then, if we’re really fortunate, finding the beginning of the answers to the questions we didn’t even know we had.

And that’s a far greater thing than deciding that the book’s ending is already known and that the binding can be applied, the story shelved, even if we should have been living out the remaining chapters with pen in hand.

“Unwritten” became a theme song for me as I sang, at full volume, “I break tradition; sometimes my tries are outside the lines. We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes, but I can’t live that way.” Of course the song wasn’t solely responsible for my new outlook, but as is often the case when others share what they’ve written with us in song or literature, it gave voice to my own internal awakening to my tendency to want to live my life with undue control, to negotiate uncertainty with fear and anxiety, and it helped me see that I wanted to say a resounding “no” to that mentality.

Whereas I used to see my life story as finished, categorized, filed away and subject to the regulations of the librarians (“no eating or drinking while reading the books,” “leave the pages pristine,” “put it back in the right section”), I began to interact with my own story differently.

I saw a story with a front cover and some pages held together loosely, with binder tape partially adhered but also with some staples, a few paper clips, pockets to hold material that isn’t yet sorted, perhaps even with a box nearby to hold the items that can’t be pressed within pages. I realized that the actual pages were dog-eared, full of marginalia, with smears of peanut butter and coffee stains, a well-loved, well-worn story that’s been on field trips, riding along in back pockets or stuffed in the glove box of a fast car.

And when it’s time to temporarily put that book (the new one I imagined) on a library shelf, it should be hard to know where to put it.

There are elements that properly belong to 302 Social Interaction. And there’s a smattering of 392 Customs of Life Cycle & Domestic Life and 640 Child Rearing and Home Care for I am a wife and mother and grandmother. And you’d have to say there have been elements of 374 Adult Education, 402 Miscellany, 641 Food and Drink and a bit of 910 Geography and Travel.

And I’m open to there being categories in the future that I can’t even yet imagine. Mixed in with my usual categories of 231 God and 120 Epistemology, and all the areas I’ve long delved into that help me try to live well this one glorious life I’ve been given, undoubtedly there will be 165 Fallacies and Sources of Error; I’ll face up to the possibility of 116 Change and be open to 001 Knowledge.

And all of this will continue until the book of my life closes, and then it will be time to say that the story is indeed finally written. But until then, I’m comfortable being quite unwritten.

“I’m undefined; I’m just beginning; the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned.”

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