"I lay curled up like a broken comma"
Written by
Helen W. Mallon
September 2011
Written by
Helen W. Mallon
September 2011



Last night, that sentence came to me as I lay awake, worrying about something. I thought it was pretty cool. I thought I might take it and run with it, turn it into an as-yet unwritten story.


The problem is that an image isn't a story idea.  I have nothing to place it in. No context, no problem set.  In the past I would have taken that line and kept on writing, hoping an elusive plot would rise from the mess.  This may work for some people--not for me. I would have ended up with a shapeless mass, trying to revise it into life.


So for now, it's archived.  I need a spine, not a vertebra.


Actually, real life has similar moments of discovery.  A quick sense of clarity about a family problem. The thought, "You know. I really should try this."  Or the converse, "I can't.  I'll never. They won't..."  But one difference between real life and fiction is that real life keeps happening, no matter what.  Until you die, narrative isn't optional.


But there's a similarity.  Moments of clarity can be nurtured, or they can be lost. They can be questioned or cultivated or put to use.  Otherwise, life can have a random quality, and we might feel we aren't the authors of our own scenarios.


As in writing, making use of our clarity fragments takes work.  But it's not always the kind of work we think of as Work.  A lot of this work has to do with kindness.  If you think it's cool to be kind to other people, why not be kind to yourself? The fragment of clarity might simply need you to let it hang out for a while. Give it air.  Don't rule it out, and see what happens.


Other kinds of clarity are negative: The bitter "I'll never..." kind of conviction that makes you feel like a broken comma. Here humor is your ally. These thoughts tend to repeat over time, the bad jokes of a feedback loop.  Oh! You again, negative thought. Thanks for sharing can be a pretty good strategy.  If you give these thoughts air, rather than tightening around them, they may loosen their grip.


All this from one punctuation mark. Not bad for one night's insomnia.

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