Once again lesson plans imitate life: My creative nonfiction students have been working on gaining distance and perspective, considering events from various angles and telling the same story in different ways and for different purposes. The other day we read "The Lost Sister" by Joyce Carol Oates and marveled over her ability to convey a traumatic family experience with a light touch, with devastating impact.
Distance is the key, I told my students: if I write about trauma while I'm in the middle of it, I'll produce a tear-jerker or a rant, which may be useful, but it may not be the most compelling way to tell the story. Wait a while--a month, a year, or, as in Oates's case, half a lifetime--and the story can become just about anything: poetry, memoir, even comedy. (Remember the formula: comedy = tragedy + time).
Which is why I'll be waiting awhile before I write any more about our water struggles: the roller-coaster ride through triumph and despair, the constant setbacks, the assurance that the well will work just fine until it stops working entirely, the coal sand clogging the water lines, the bills the bills the bills. It can wait. And it will need to wait because guess what I'm doing today?
Cleaning my whole stinking house.
Yes: after two dry weeks, we have running water! The well guys were out there working in the bitter cold until close to 9:00 last night, and they'll have to come back Monday to pick up their drill rig and do some water testing, but meanwhile, we have water! We can't drink it until after it's tested, but I can't tell you how marvelous it feels to be able to flush toilets and wash hands. And dishes. And floors. And the whole stinking house.
Someday I'll look back on this and write....something or other. I couldn't hope to predict right now how this incident might strike me in a year's time, but I trust that I'll have something interesting to say after I gain a little perspective. Meanwhile, I'm cleaning up, flushed with joy and ready to scrub.