Dear Brave Solitude Crew,
When what happened to you happened to you we were kids. You might’ve been 14. I didn’t even know what it meant. I was still a virgin and I hadn’t even had my first kiss. My parents just visited me in California for five days. “Have you read ______’s writing?” my mom asked. “She has me waiting for the next one!” You have me waiting, too. Right now I’m editing a collection of personal essays written by twenty somethings about the quarter life crisis, called Hindsight’s 20/Something. Almost everyone I’m working with is afraid to share it—I see the thought process in their eyes. I met with a friend earlier today for coffee, to discuss her piece about collecting sea glass and years of making men like her. “I’m afraid what my dad will think,” she said, tearing up. It took me years and years of writing and speaking sentences about what happened until I was ready to show it. How did you make it the other side of fear? How did you decide to write publicly about your father and the bathtub, the blood on the wall in the coat closet? Reading what you posted was a tiny celebration for me. Your words are a brave fucking revolution. Is it hard for you to stay living in Oregon, the wet fir-branches arching over the setting of your trauma? California is an escape for me and it isn’t. It’s offered a gold grass, sunlight-colored solitude that is both negative space to reflect on what Oregon was and to miss what’s green and what’s passed. My parents think I hate Oregon and my friends here say I won’t shut up about it. Tonight I went to the movies by myself (I go every Monday, usually alone) and saw Leave No Trace. All I knew about the film beforehand was it was about a dad and his daughter living in Forest Park, the massive wooded area in Portland, OR. Turns out the man is a vet with PTSD who chooses to raise his kid away from society. The film illuminates with humanity how people with intense trauma don’t fit into our society. Don’t you work in mental health, now? Have you ever had a panic attack? They changed my life. Quickly into the movie I recognized the way certain brambles were shaped, a random barn, the background of a scene’s jagged landscape. I Googled the production details on my phone after the movie ended—a lot of it was filmed in Eagle Fern Park, just a handful of minutes from our hometown, from where we met, where we went to Winter Formal together and in unison chose not to dance. How insane is it to witness yourself experience a repressed memory? How frightening that the brain can hide entire timelines inside of itself, inside of us. Do you believe yourself, yet? Do you believe what you lived? It’s wild how controlling someone can be. Denial is a dark alchemy—what happened to you didn’t happen, how you remember is wrong, your memories aren’t valid to me. I read to my friend (who’s worried about her family’s reaction to her essay) one of my favorite Anne Lamott quotations: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Know that there’s a crew of us for you, in this truth-telling business. My favorite writer Lidia Yuknavitch—whose memoir The Chronology of Water was voted the reader’s choice for the Oregon Book Award—is also my personal God for being a misfit, a survivor, a person who takes control of the story they write about themselves. Her story started in Florida then went to Texas then made it to Eugene, where you and I went to college together. In the four years we cohabited that town, I maybe saw you five times. What did that place become to you? Lidia’s TED Talk, which cemented her publicly as a voice of reason, details the beauty in connecting with those who’ve also walked through Hell: I feel kindred with fellow sufferers, not because they suffer, and not because of some absurd vortex of victimhood camaraderie, and not because sufferers are in a state of grace, but because they go on, they endure. And because sometimes, the sufferer reinvents themself — and this kind of reinvention is what misfits are so good at. When I was 21 and living in the same town you lived, the town Lidia destroyed herself in, I met her. She said we needed more soul sisters, more people who make art, more people who’ve reinvented their selves. I wrote her a letter, thanking her for helping me identify as a survivor. And now I’m writing you: I’m excited to watch, though from miles away, how you keep chronicling your reinvention.
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Austin Beaton is a poet writer essayist who somewhere in the multiverse is still a kid hurling pinecone baseball pitches.