The elephant (or ‘does writing it all down ever make it go away?’)

Elephant with Easter decoration

I saw this on my walk today and thought about you. You were the blonde woman with the radiant smile at the writer’s retreat. Your smile, your hair, they were full and sweet and from your hand-knit sweater I can tell you are the kind of woman who brings people homemade bread and vegetables from your garden. It is that kind of place, this little island, and you are that kind of woman.

I notice you when we are talking about memoir. When you raised your hand to ask – but what about exposing yourself like that?  And I say, to you, to the room,  to myself, that these parts of my life were always there, taking up space. It was the elephant in the room so to speak. Writing about them just named the elephant.

You catch up to me later at the tea station. You tell me you are writing a story but your friends just cry when they read it. I say it sounds like you have lovely friends but you need tougher readers. It’s a small island you say.  Does the elephant ever go away?  you ask. For a minute I don’t even understand what you’re talking about and you remind me of what I said about naming the elephant.

No, I say, it doesn’t and I can see the look of disappointment on your face.   But it’s your elephant now! I say encouragingly, You can talk to it, you can train it. Then the next workshop starts and we go our separate ways.

I have been thinking so much about your question. About your elephant, and mine. And I think a more complete answer might be this. The elephant never leaves. Some days you are the trainer, just as I said.  Dressed in sparkles like a circus act. You teach it how not to crush you, how to take you where you want to go. But some days that giant forceful dangerous thing in the middle of the room, it’s not just what happened to you, that enormous beautiful thing is you. I want to tell you that there can be days when writing it all down can help you inhabit not just the big bones of your pain, but also your big heart, your big ideas. You become the elephant.

I saw this and thought of you. Your sad story, your hopeful smile. How you reminded me of myself in the way you wanted a miracle, for the elephant to disappear.  Happy Easter by which I mean spring by which I mean starting over and emerging from what might have killed you into something that is still not completely formed or safe. This moment that not only you but the crows in the trees and the grubs in the ground are experiencing. That is the only miracle there is. The elephant stays. But you teach it.  You become it. You hang garlands around its neck.