?

Log in

Mortification

« previous entry | next entry »
Mar. 16th, 2016 | 05:34 pm

This morning in Kuwait, the party at the next table left a wreckage of half-eaten waffles mired in strawberries and whipped cream. I looked over and longed to take just one bite.

Slightly embarrassing…but more ‘silly.’ And I didn’t.

When Chita Rivera walked into the afterparty of the song and dance show celebrating her career, I had the impulse to clap but didn’t. She entered in awkward silence instead of to the ovation she deserved.

Self-mourning. But it’s not like I stood out.

At 19, I was fired from a strip club for not being pretty enough. I try to justify it in my head—I was also in a terrible outfit—rather than admit I wasn’t hot enough to show my naked body to a club so dodgy they didn’t even have a DJ, we had to take a cocktail shaker around for quarters for the jukebox.

Getting warmer.

My older half-brother lives in a secure building. Visitors must be announced. The last time I went, the concierge spoke to my brother’s boyfriend of more than a year, put the phone down, and said “I’m sorry, he says Rob doesn’t have a sister Allison.”

Bingo. Humiliation.

Maybe the boyfriend and Rob had been so newly in love they hadn’t talked much about their families. Maybe the boyfriend was confused, already knowing Anne and Amanda, and three sisters with A was too much to process, so the half-one was forgotten.

I left the building in a blur of tears. Writing about it brings me to tears now. I’ve never told my mother, or my other brother, or the half-sister still living. But I’m telling you, confident that it’s more interesting than a business trip to Kuwait (beige! traffic! mall!), a brief encounter with a legendary Broadway star, or yet another teen strip club experience.

Good memoir is not made from interesting lives. Sure, it helps to have traveled, or survived a tragic accident, or spiraled into addiction, or fucked someone famous. But most of us are limited in our time and budget. We treasure our remaining relatives, and writing about recovery is rarely worth the descent (have you seen the price of heroin?). What makes our lives meaningful is not brushes with fame or grand adventure, it is our willingness to write, in painstaking detail, our humiliations, our discoveries of our ignorance, our shames. To mortify ourselves.

Mortification is terrifying—the fear of being known, of revealing something that is intimate and powerful and true.

Intimate.
Powerful.
True.
Don’t you want to read that? I do.

The root of “mortify” means to become dead—or “ded” if you wish, the implication that we are so overcome with cute or sarcasm or revelation that we are (literally, right?) felled—but to mortify ourselves is to face the death of the ego and trust that dignity will walk away unscathed.

The same way we choose symbolic death in the face of comedy, we can employ the power of choosing mortification rather than allowing humiliation to be thrust on us.

The root of successful mortification (I never thought I’d put those two words together) is humility—the admission that we are not unique. Even our fragments are common. The most specific and idiosyncratic stories I tell are the ones where someone comes up to me and says, “Oh my God, that happened to me, too!”

That time you held someone who needed love you couldn’t give them.
That time you realized the “someone” who should have done something was you.
That time you crawled back for one more or five more horrible emotional blows from the one who didn’t love you any more.
That time your family member said something that betrayed everything you ever thought they saw in you.

Humiliating. Potentially mortifying, too. But the details of those stories, the details particular to you, are what make them worth reading, what makes the reader say, “me, too!”

It’s not about being “interesting” or having “adventures.” It’s about telling what happened to us, as honestly as possible. Polishing our craft until we know we can deliver what happened in the best words we can. Not telling the reader how bad we felt, or how bad they should feel, but laying out what happened and waiting to see if they laugh or cry.

Not everyone can write their life. But everyone deserves to see their life written, and with the gift of being able to write comes the responsibility of doing so honestly and well. Write yours if you can, in glorious, mortifying detail.

I wet my pants in the elementary school library, torrentially. On the way back to first grade I taught myself to spell “bathroom” so I could tell why I was late without admitting the deed.

I told an inside joke on stage in a small room full of people I could see clearly. The joke came out racist. I spent the rest of the show knowing I’d need to apologize personally to the black family in the front row.

I made a pass at a colleague I knew was after my friend. He turned me down. I called his hotel room ten minutes later and he turned me down again.

I was mortified.

You, too?




________________________________________________
OK, so the mall in Kuwait is actually pretty interesting, but writing about designer abayas over platform spike heels just wasn't my bag this week.




.

Link | Leave a comment | Share

Comments {15}

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

(no subject)

from: halfshellvenus
date: Mar. 17th, 2016 01:25 am (UTC)
Link

I'm wondering if you're still in contact with that half-brother, or whether that was the first step in something worse. How awful. :(

I agree that it's often the "universal" stories, well told, that really resonate. Those are shared experiences (or close enough) that we would have such a hard time admitting to ourselves or each other, or that we just can't explain quite right. Being able to relate them in a way that strikes home to the reader is a gift. :)

Reply | Thread

orockthro

(no subject)

from: orockthro
date: Mar. 17th, 2016 02:13 am (UTC)
Link

There is something about writing about ourselves that hinges on mortification, isn't there? About opening that tin to the rawest, most abjectly personal bits of ourselves (and how interesting that those things we consider the most "us" and the "truest" are also the things that hurt the most) and putting it on display. Because that ugly part of us, the part that hurts and is afraid, is the part that everyone has and can see in themselves.
It's a strange thought, isn't it.
You write beautifully, and I'm not at all surprised that I enjoyed this. :)

Reply | Thread

drwex

(no subject)

from: drwex
date: Mar. 17th, 2016 03:57 pm (UTC)
Link

This one is not tagged "non-fiction". On purpose?

I thought "successful mortification" would be a googlewhack, but it's not. Your entry is the second result, though.

Substantively: I have blotted out of memory many mortifying things. There exist still many more; I doubt I'll ever write them - they're more the things I hope die with me than the stories I'd want told after I'm not around.

Reply | Thread

kick_galvanic, zagzagael, skull_theatre

(no subject)

from: bleodswean
date: Mar. 17th, 2016 06:17 pm (UTC)
Link

An interesting premise (with which I disagree ) and you brought your thoughts on this to brilliant two-dimensional life! Clever use of italicizing your personal mortifying moments.

Reply | Thread

whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Mar. 17th, 2016 06:39 pm (UTC)
Link

Thanks!

I'm trying to figure out what I'd call the premise--that we don't have to be interesting to write memoir, or that people identify with shame/guilt/hurt, or that writing the ordinary well can be successful, or
If I didn't accomplish any of those thoughts :) What do you disagree with and what's your thought instead? Curious to know!

Reply | Parent | Thread

kick_galvanic, zagzagael, skull_theatre

(no subject)

from: bleodswean
date: Mar. 17th, 2016 09:22 pm (UTC)
Link

You are welcome! I'm a huge fan. I mean this with all sincerity. I would read anything you wrote.

This is what I perceived to be your premise statement - What makes our lives meaningful is not brushes with fame or grand adventure, it is our willingness to write, in painstaking detail, our humiliations, our discoveries of our ignorance, our shames. To mortify ourselves.

Perhaps, you mean "what makes our" autobiographies (hagiography in my case LOL) "meaningful"? I bristle whenever anyone tells me in an authoritative voice, here is what makes that worth the while. So, that could be my own reading....but certainly, many more things make life meaningful than just being willing to write nakedly about shame? I think baring oneself can be an important psychological experience for some individuals....but everyone? And not everyone must write it or even speak it aloud, surely.

I also worry about too much chest beating. One can own a mortifying experience but it doesn't have to be carried around one's neck.

Reply | Parent | Thread

dmousey

(no subject)

from: dmousey
date: Mar. 18th, 2016 05:17 am (UTC)
Link

I also worry about too much chest beating. One can own a mortifying experience but it doesn't have to be carried around one's neck.

And thank goodness for that! The only way I've stayed sane is to lock some of those experiences away in a mental box... and toss the key.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Raised by Wolves

(no subject)

from: sinnamongirl
date: Mar. 17th, 2016 07:59 pm (UTC)
Link

I really like your insight about how mortification can be shared and makes us not so special - though in my experience, the sharing of it ends up smoothing out the mortification. At least somewhat. Til I'm lying in bed at 2 a.m. thinking not just of the mortifying event but also replaying if I told the story well enough to my friends and becoming mortified all over again ;)

Excellent entry this week!

Reply | Thread

tonithegreat

(no subject)

from: tonithegreat
date: Mar. 17th, 2016 09:51 pm (UTC)
Link

I like what you did here. It's relevant to a lot of what we're doing in idol and also to writing just for catharsis, which can be pretty powerful.

Reply | Thread

dmousey

(no subject)

from: dmousey
date: Mar. 18th, 2016 05:22 am (UTC)
Link

Sometimes I think writing your humiliations and mortifactions is reinforcing trauma. It takes guts to expose yourself to the reliving of it as you write. And people are always more interested in the 'dirt' than they are the mundane or virtuous

Thanks for making me think! Hugs and peace~~~D.

Reply | Thread

rayaso

(no subject)

from: rayaso
date: Mar. 18th, 2016 05:47 pm (UTC)
Link

This was so wonderful! I really enjoyed your meditation on the nature of memoirs and mortification. Your examples of mortification were wonderful. There was a certain universality to them, even though they were such personal moments. Great job!

Reply | Thread

blink

(no subject)

from: yachiru
date: Mar. 18th, 2016 06:41 pm (UTC)
Link

This sounds like fremdschämen, which is a concept I love. We sort of hate and like feeling that shame for someone else.

Reply | Thread

Murielle

(no subject)

from: murielle
date: Mar. 20th, 2016 12:52 pm (UTC)
Link

Fascinating. My personal experience with mortification is so widespread, numerous, and generally boring and well, personal, I'd never share.

Hope you and your step-brother have worked everything out.

Reply | Thread

Laura, aka "Ro Arwen"

(no subject)

from: roina_arwen
date: Mar. 20th, 2016 09:34 pm (UTC)
Link

I like your general premise here; I haven't (IMO) led a particularly interesting life, but it's nice to know it could still lead to good writing.

Reply | Thread

prog_schlock

(no subject)

from: prog_schlock
date: Mar. 21st, 2016 11:15 pm (UTC)
Link

Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins once said in an interview that I heard that the way he wrote songs was he wrote down everything he was thinking and kept the stuff that made him flinch the most. This was back before he became bald and mean and everything.

All of those situations sound mortifying to me, though I have a pretty high empathy level. I can't watch whole episodes of Arrested Development, for example, because even though the show makes me laugh harder than almost any other, I start wincing so hard when things get socially awkward that I can't stand it. So, basically, yeah, I'm totally feeling you here.

Back to Billy Corgan, here's a song that maybe helps people understand why we all loved the Smashing Pumpkins back in the day:

Reply | Thread