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This Book Taught Me To Swim; Kept Me From Drowning

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I’ve only read a handful of memoirs written by women but in them I beg and beg for their parents to stay alive so I can write to the women authors and ask them how they did it; how they wrote about such deep, harrowing cuts with severity and perspective and then how on earth they faced their parents afterward.

But they are all dead parents, and I haven’t begun to write my own story because of it. It’s terrifying to me. To explore where we come from, how we survive grow become the people sitting here typing reading breezing through completely ignoring the rest of this. The yous and Is and mes and all the people that come haphazardly by mistake or on purpose stampeding through in between. Because what are other people’s memoirs for if not to reflect selfishly on our own lives? Maybe they’re just books just stories to you but I am a writer. I can’t help but make it about me.

Fervent heated textured words, structure, things I thought were typos and words strung together in a way that made my brain stumble trying to decipher understand acknowledge them; this book was the most incredible piece of science fiction I’ve ever needed to read. Required reading for life; for people like me. If you’re listening, put it on the syllabus. You need this book. And if you’re not listening and you’re like me, this book will find you, don’t worry.

I found this book on instagram. Clicking through hashtags wasting time like a mule looking for something – it found me. It found me and I stopped looking.

I put the book on hold at the library and when it came I read the first chapter out loud to my partner who asked me to stop because it was too hard. I scoffed in my head. I’d bitten the insides of my cheeks so hard holding in tears; tried hard to make my voice sound unwavering. This book had me. Already.  I didn’t stop reading until two days after it was due at the library and I apologized into the pages but I wasn’t passing it on until I had finished.

But it’s not syfy you’re right. It’s a memoir about a person whose life allowed her to live survive and thrive within a body. A body of water. It’s about a woman author named Lidia Yuknavitch who learned to live on land. Wet feet. Deep breathing. Dares. Drugs. Treachery. Dark watery depths. And beauty.  A lot of beauty. All of it inside out for me to read. It’s science fiction because I cannot swim. It might be something different for you. Pools, oceans, lakes, ponds, and paradises. In words. Nightmares, too.

In it I learned that there’s a way to use a comma that I never understood. And I learned that there are far too many in my life. I’ve gotten rid of some already do you see? Advancement, for me.

In this book I learned that there are other women whose girlchilds have died like mine. I’ve never met anyone like Lidia, the character in this book. The girlchild, the woman. There’s a part where the real life Lidia writes about watching old super 8s of girlchild Lidia, and the character Lidia wonders who or what on earth was there in those videos cheering her on. Who told her to keep going? I watched the videos too, in my mind, and felt a wonder and solitude so overwhelming I think I missed the whole point of memory altogether. All the Lidias became real to me and they became me. My girlchild and hers and the character me and the me me. I might have missed the entire point but what are other people’s memoirs for if not to reflect selfishly on our own lives, right.

This book. I started writing down all the fragmented sentences experiences cuts and beats I wanted to remember but there came to be too many – too long too many passages entire pages chapters and sections I wanted to hold in my pocket, carry with me everywhere. I can’t stop get rid of all the commas and periods and stop marks periods so I have to read right to the end I took photos instead and I wanted to share each one but I didn’t I couldn’t knowing they’re all part of something bigger. Each word part of a sentence part of a fracture of a memory of a larger story that happened in a real life recounted by the real deep-breathing person who wrote it and who lives and carries it somewhere on this world and I know of her now and I think she is strong.

Some those words of rage and hope and love in this life.

Rage and love and hope: raw ingredients for a good story. A real live lifesong heartsong. Lidia style.

As I read about this life I picture our girlchilds knowing the other – out there in a different decade and timespace but equally urging our selves to survive. And all the other girlchilds that will die. All working towards a time in a life in dreams where they can create and surround themselves with a world that is their own idea of what a life could mean. Free from all that came before, from the now that they are.

It’s a hard thing to write.

I like to believe our girlchilds don’t die – they don’t leave – until they know we’ll get there one day. Until they know we’ll arrive.

This book holds all my favourite parts of someone else’s life. It’s quiet and strong and subtle and in equal parts it taught me to swim and kept me from drowning. And because it’s on the syllabus I’ll never be able to thank the world enough for giving it to me despite wishing parts of it never happened. So make sure to read, if you’re like me. There’s a boob on the cover so people will never ask you what you’ve gotten yourself into.

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