What has come about in writing the story of the last 25 years of my life, and doing it for many reasons, is to sort out "memory glitches" that I have. Over the years I've worked with a number of therapists on this, and the general consensus is that they are caused by trauma. Much of what is Swiss cheese in my memory relates to traumatic events in my past.
Writing the story, and using various methods to stimulate memory, not just to try to patch memory glitches, but so I get can the right feel for the scene, I do a kind of method writing where I have to be in the scene to write it. So, I bring myself to the locations where events happened with my steno pad and write out the scene from that perspective. I use music, television, videos of the time... I'm bringing journals, other versions of the book that failed to launch (I'm infamous for writing 300 pages of a book, saying "not working out" and shredding it - I am quite insane), stories I've written that are from my life story, historical references, and using evocative art, jewelry, and clothes to immerse myself. This brings me closer to remembering correctly, and it ends up feeling poetic. The pieces slide together, the connections are out there...
Patching memory glitches has helped me sort out things that I don't understand in the present because I don't know what they are connected to. One of those things is that I remember being sexually assaulted, but I was unable to remember the circumstances or even the year it happened. I had this vague memory that felt like it connected to different things, but it didn't seem right. After multiple rewrites and meditation and immersing myself, it came back to me as I wrote out a scene that I remembered wrong in the intital writing.
I was sexually assaulted in late August, 1999, during The Great Siege, as it is known in Rancho Nuevo, otherwise known as the summer I was completely destroyed by a long series of progressively more terrible events culminating in my surrender, and then my rescue. I won't write the details here because it can only be understood in the context of that entire summer, and in part the entire book. It was an extremely traumatic event and I believe part of the reason the memory was short circuiting whenever I tried to access it was that it doesn't make any sense without the context. It involves me doing something very out of character (brought on by circumstances leading up to that point over three months) and then doing something else completely out of character (also brought on by antecedent events). Without the context, my reaction to it would be, "Well, that can't be right."
The book is about the journey of life, trite as that sounds, but it isn't really a "feel good" story. As I read it, if I hadn't lived this story and was reading the book I would wonder "How many times can this guy be utterly destroyed and survive?" It kind of happens every five years. Sometimes it is worse than others. 2004 wasn't so bad, only thing that happened was I got laid off from my job of five years, but that led to circumstances leading up to the Excommunication War that essentially began right after I was laid off, but the heavy artillery didn't come out until 2007 when I deployed the nuclear option.
Writing this is at times like therapeutic journaling, but a bit more intense, like envisioning your journal being filmed and writing it with that in mind and saying "does this mean anything to anyone but me?" It is a story about connections between people and how to navigate them and the rest of the celestial map of the life you lead. I used to refer to it as "the living parable" when the book was in its infancy, which led to me writing individual stories from it on everything2. One of the reasons I have enhanced empathy (I refuse to say that I am an empath because the term has been abused to death) is that I have experienced these traumas. When I worked in psych and patients doubted me, as they always do, believing they are being bullshitted, I would tell them, "Look in my eyes and tell me I don't understand."
People would freak out, and I did it more intensively with adults. "Damn, you've been in it." People who have stared into the abyss know each other. You can see it in their eyes. I was very good at telling which patients were bullshitting me and which weren't. I could come out of individually meeting with two patients with conflicting stories and come out knowing the right version. It was usually a mix, with each trying to enhance a version that made them look as good as possible.
I will continue rewriting and tweaking, but I'm getting close to hitting the right notes with Act One, and when I get it right, that is when I will start Act Two. I attempted to write the first draft of the entire novel, but when I started Act Two I realized I had failed to set it up properly in Act One. What Act One was doing was building to the climax and final payoff. It felt like it could have ended there except it was a horrific ending because it could be seen as really depressing and hopeless, and that isn't what this book is at all. That depressing and hopeless feeling ending sets up Act Two. It failed to in the first draft. Failed completely.
I had to basically shred half of the first draft and completely rewrite the chapters. They were unfocused and all over the place. Scenes were being dragged out and there was stuff in there that made no sense even to me. So, now I think I have it right. Which is a celebration. And that is strange because I just finished the rewrite of the chapter than now contains the details of my sexual assault. I'm not celebrating that. Writing it was pretty emotionally devastating. But I feel a sense of relief finally having pieced it together.
I worked with a lot of sexual assault victims, most of the teenage girls and adult women, but also men. When I first worked with people in crisis, I had no experience, but was hired in large part because the girls in our care opened up to me about being sexually assaulted. Very few people I worked with could understand why, but while they wouldn't open up to others, they would to me. They felt comfortable and safe talking to me.
They could see it in my eyes.