LET IT BE MESSY

A couple days ago my wife and I received the 30th-reunion book from our college. It’s a thick red paperback with updates from hundreds of classmates.

I looked up friends. I looked up the guy who seemed during college to be either bat-shit crazy, or a genius (or both). How had he turned out?

I looked up a woman I didn’t know during college, but whose writing in the intervening years has interested me. I wondered where she lived, how she saw the world now.

I flipped randomly through pages. I tried to guess which classmates had chosen not to participate. Often I was right. For them, there was only name, date of graduation, and which dorm they’d been in — no news about job, kids, second homes in Colorado, a late-life love affair with ballroom dance.

Then I spoke to classmate Camille Landau, who was looking through the book herself.

She gave me two questions to ask, for any entry.

First, who was the entry written for?

Was this person writing with his fellow doctors in mind?

Was that person writing for her friends?

Was still another person writing for her immigrant parents, crafting an entry she hoped would make them proud?

I asked Camille to read my entry and tell me who I seemed to be writing for.

“For your friends,” she said, “no question.”

Which I think is true. (I’ll paste my entry below.)

The other question Camille asked: was the entry dead or alive?

That is, did the writer come across as a person in progress, a person still learning, a person who still got confused, or curious, or excited, as someone still living?

Or did the entry instead conjure a person who had already made up his mind about everything and was now just playing out the string?

This reminded me of the line in the Bob Dylan song It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) — “he not busy being born/Is busy dying.”

It also reminded me of the Netflix show Nanette, in which stand-up comedian Hannah Gadsby reflects on the structure of comedy and storytelling.

Gadsby takes a hard look at her lifelong habit of self-deprecating humor. She examines the whole concept of a punchline, of tying up a story with a bow, of closing it, sealing it, making it consumable. There’s something fundamentally untrue about it, she suggested.

In contrast, I thought of my classmate Natasha Shapiro, a New York City artist, therapist, and writer. One of the things I like about her writing is that it’s extremely open-ended — sometimes messy, sometimes funny, sometimes depressing. It’s a journey. She’s trying to find her way. For me as the reader, tagging along with that person is interesting, even inspiring.

In my own writing, I very much see the habit of wrapping up stories with a bow, trying to make them consumable. For material, I gravitate toward the past, whether my in-laws’ experience of the Armenian Genocide, or my childhood in Maryland in the 1970s.

I think on some level, I choose the past because it’s safer. Even if the episode I’m describing was messy or painful, I get to analyze it now with the benefit of time, experience, maybe some wisdom. There’s a cushion between me and the pain. And from a distance, I can try to measure how big a wave was sent across the years.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote for the 30th reunion.

I was a stay-at-home dad for seventeen years. It was a sweet gig. And I underestimated how wrenching and disorienting it would be to say goodbye to the kids. But I am also excited to see what the next chapter is for me. I’ve worked as a journalist, as a lawyer, as a dad. I’m curious to find out what comes next.

A careful reader might stop at the words “wrenching” and “disorienting.”

Clearly there are stories and details underneath those words, a mess of some kind.

I suppose that’s the story I would need to tell now, if I wanted to be as courageous as the above mentioned Gadsby, Landau, Shapiro, and Dylan.

No promises.

We’ll see.

 

 

About Kit Troyer

Kit Troyer lives in Los Angeles. He worked previously as a newspaper reporter and a criminal defense attorney. For the last 15 years, he has been a stay-at-home dad. But that gig is running out. Kids will soon be moving out and moving on.
This entry was posted in COURAGE, SELF HELP, SPIRIT. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to LET IT BE MESSY

  1. Karen Todd says:

    I love this so much. I procrastinated on my 25th Red Book entry until it was no longer possible to submit (OH, THERE WERE EXTENSIONS, TRUST). I wish I’d consulted with you because I truly think you nailed it, meaning, I see YOU. That is not an easy task.

  2. sharon says:

    I love this, too. Devastating. And so generous. Thank you for putting good humans into the world Kit & Aleen.

  3. Thanks for being a friend. Please keep up your good work. Btw, from another of your posts, my sixth grade teacher was Miss (“yes, Miss) Hazel Landry, about age 60. She was amazing. I will never forget her.

    • kittroyer says:

      Thank you for reading! I’m happy to hear about Miss Hazel Landry. The more I think about it, I’m amazed by what a profound effect a teacher can have, even very early in our lives. There’s an Italian show on HBO called My Brilliant Friend. The first few episodes — and then really the whole first two seasons, if you stick with it — illustrate the momentous difference which can be made by a teacher who really cares.

      • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. My family had moved to New Orleans. My younger brother and sister, along with me, were in a new school. My mother was in the process of losing her sight. Because my father was a merchant seaman, he was gone for months at a time, which made he the man of the house. Miss Landry knew of my situation; she was fair with me, but not overlooking of anything. In seventh and eighth grades, there was another special teacher; her name was Mrs. Hinyub, who taught English. She also knew my situation; and was fair, but not overlooking anything. Those two teachers helped to frame me into the man than I am today. I will never forget their strengths as women and teachers. Neither will I forget their loving and compassionate hearts. Time comes and goes, but the memories of such people stays within our minds.

      • kittroyer says:

        Wow. Thank you. I am moved by these memories and descriptions.

      • Aleen says:

        Incredible kit. This one killed me. So moving and so true. U r such a gifted writer with such a deep soul. And Camille – u r still the same, curious, beautiful person you were when I met you 34 years ago! It makes me so happy that we are still having these conversations!

  4. Thank you. I have entered into another phase life, which involves reaching out to friends and relatives that I have lost contact with. Success is coming in these searches, and I will continue.
    There are too many people that just seem to slip out of our lives; that should not happen. I have found fourth cousins, and high school mates. People are important, and should not be disgarded.

  5. Thanks for your kind words. I like that yours is succinct but sees life as a series of rebirths. I agonized over writing my entry. I should post about it. And the mention of curiosity. That is no easy task to stay curious about life and the world. Inspiring.

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