My background in researching identity construction has informed my writing in a positive manner, as by fortunate associate it means I am able to meet many people and interrogate their lives. It’s also informed my reading, as I now find it much easier to sense a well narrated identity. For me, the vital ingredients involved in constructing identity are the personal, the interpersonal and the societal aspects of experience. This translates into the ‘I’, the ‘me’, and ‘them’.
Traditional identity deployment in writing often includes only a top level descriptive aspect of appearance, employment and financial status; if we dig deeper, there is a real resonance in the everyday as identities are constructed in and interactive environment. For instance, few of us are trapped entirely inside our own minds. In fact, the connection between the ‘I’ of the inner life and the ‘me’ that acts on the world is and intricate relationship of negotiated expectations of ourselves and the outside world. So, why would the characters we write be any different?
More and more books are tracking the identity construction and reconstruction of women’s lives, and, through examination of older women’s lives as well as young women’s, we are able to see how the various milestones that influence women are played out in the whole life narrative. This book, The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt,reviewed by the Guardian here, will by on my Spring reading list, as it fits into this ‘I, me and them’ paradigm and has the additional dimension of art to inform it. Another wonderfully resonating books is Scarlet Thomas’ Our Tragic Universe. It’s central thread is the anti-story, but Thomas weaves around this her ordinary relationship and a small town life, and how satisfying simple things can be, if you learn to kick back and allow yourself to enjoy them. One aspect of this book I still remember is her pleasure in knitting socks, and I can identify with the way one gets lost in small occupations of the day.
So much of narrative identities are wrapped in the mundane events of everyday life, and for women, although the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ are vibrant and colourful, the outer experience of ‘them’ is steeped in routine and repetitiveness of one day mimicking the next. But surely we don’t want to hear about this, we would rather have the drama and the eventful stress of a fast moving, exciting life?
I guess it depends on whether the reader is looking for a quick distracting fix, or for writing that mirrors life. Do we suspend our belief and aspire to a drama-laden life, or do we seek to identify with others? In a worse time of my life I realised that if I listened to song lyrics and they described my sadness, then someone else must have had the same feeling, and I would not die of a broken heart. It can be the same for books, a kind of shared consciousness that pats the shoulder and reassures that you are not alone.
High drama is not for me. I prefer to read and write about the minutiae of the day, for this is where the soul is. We cry in private and hurt alone, leaving the meetings with friends for a canned account of lost love, lost lives. If I am to know other women’s lives, I need to know the ‘I’, the ‘me’ and the ‘them’.