Early in quarantine, I couldn’t do anything worth doing. I couldn’t write, eat, or sleep. Couldn’t play music or lay in a hammock without wanting to throw up.
I couldn’t watch movies either because I was frozen with indecision. It could be the last movie I ever watch—it better be good.
I don’t watch a lot of movies. Never have. I’m a TV gal. But someone told me that Mystic Pizza was a good movie. I thought it was about a pizza parlor. And I guess, in some ways, it is. But honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what it’s really about. I just got swept away in the innocent teenage bildungsroman drama that presents 19-year-olds with the decision between marriage and dying alone.
I remember being that 19-year-old. That 20-year-old. That 25-on-my-wedding-day-year-old. Oh, what I would give to go back and ruin the best day of her life.
I drove past Mystic, Connecticut last week on a cross-country birthday road trip. I wouldn’t call it a vacation as I spent the better part of 4 days in a car, stopping for a few days in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the former home of Eugene O’Neill & Mary Oliver and current part-time residence of Rachel Maddow. Coming from the prairie, the East Coast is such a mystery to me with its rolling hills and breathtaking ocean views. I don’t know the difference between a cape and a bay. But I knew when I drove past Mystic that people could feel the same kind of stuckness as they do in the Midwest.
I went on this road trip alone and thought a lot about marriage and motherhood and what I’m going to write about it. There’s a very strange paradox in memoir-writing: you need to live to write, but you can’t write until you’ve lived. So, by the time you’ve done all the living and the processing and the wailing and gnashing of teeth, you can only look back on how you felt and what that experience was like. If you try to write while you’re in the middle, you’re unlikely to have a cohesive narrative. Except that I find the reliance on retrospection dissatisfying. Sure, I can comb through the archives of my journals, social media posts, and scraps of song lyrics I’ve scribbled (“wrought iron relief on the overpass/for you, who can afford to hide”), but I don’t think people want the processed cheese version. They want raw, in the middle, what did it feel like when you broke your own heart how-to guides.
And that’s always been a criticism of memoir. It’s a story, not a guide for living. Therefore, the ongoing nature of the pandemic means that 1) no one has a roadmap, and 2) we can’t write about this experience yet because we’re still living it. We can try, sure, but we don’t know how this ends. Unlike adults watching teen rom-coms like horror films screaming, “Don’t walk down that aisle!” we don’t have the benefit of hindsight on this one.
I hope one day it all makes sense with a tidy ending. A marriage, if it’s a comedy.