Thursday, May 21, 2009

Unpacking

Last night I spent about an hour spinning yarn, not to be confused with spinning yarns. It's an amazingly meditative task even when you're as awful at it as I am.

To compensate for my awfulness I decided to loosen up the fiber in a big way; it came in a snug braid, and my job was to spread it out and tease it apart until it was thin enough to take twist and become strong, just as we have to make ourselves vulnerable sometimes to become stronger.

Well, as I was teasing apart the fiber, something that requires your hands to be a good distance apart by the way - if they're too close and controlling, the fibers resist and won't come apart, which makes another interesting life lesson - I noticed for the first time just how much is in those braids. A lot, in fact. And I said to myself, "It's like unpacking!" which led me back again to writing.

One of the many useful tips that came out of the workshop I took with Wayson Choy last summer was the term "unpack!" If you came across a sentence like this:

"Jan touched the scar on her face just enough to dislodge some of the powder, to justify excusing herself for a trip to the ladies' room."

You'd all but shout, "Unpack!"

and have the writer expand on where the scar came from, why Jan needed an excuse to go to the ladies' room, and perhaps what she really planned to do there. I myself am also wondering now whether the self-consciousness about her scar is her own, or a reflection of others' discomfort or disgust or her fear of same, but since I'm not writing about Jan (or anybody else at the moment unfortunately) we'll leave that question for another day.

My point is, the same rule applies to life. It's so nice sometimes to gather up all the little complexes and issues and idiosyncrasies that make up our lives and put them into an envelope and label it. It creates a sense of control over our existence. But sometimes it's more important to let things get messy - to unpack it all and spread it out and look at it for what it is. Yes, you're exposing yourself to a lot of pain, but like fiber accepting twist to become strong, you end up capable of so much more than you were before.

1 comment:

fusedglass said...

Unpack!
Of course. Thank you. A whole new lens through which to view the art of writing. (and fibre) (and life)

I used to be known as "oxo cube", for my concetrated writing style.