[ToC]

 

ON NOT PIVOTING

Lia Purpura

Not that I haven't known "pivotal." Not that I haven't myself pivoted: indeed, Big Events have turned me from one state of being to another so fast, so hard, that the g-force waggled my cheeks and pinned me to walls, chairs, beds, countries. And it's not that I fear my Pivotal Life Events might pale in comparison to others' PLEs—or that I don't have A Story. It's just that I work best in quanta and jots. Pivotal Life Events are constructed pointillistically for me and I am best returned to the country of myself by way of micromoments.
     Maybe my PLE's aren't the talkative kind, or are, but I'm not especially calibrated to receive the momentous. Sometimes I feel that moments others might construe as "pivotal" on my behalf, should exert more force than they do, should fit more neatly or prominently into a Big Life Narrative. All those stories about which people say "Oh You Should Write an Essay on THAT..."? Well, I never write an essay on that. (In fact, in college, I tried on some popular Big Life Narratives using the PC lingo of the day—but I couldn't crank the drama up high enough, and I kept feeling I should have been more wrecked than I was by certain Pivotal Life Events—to effect the proper pivot into Meaning.) My PLEs don't emit much reverb. I can't quite see them as shiny, jangly, flashy; timely or hip or twitter-worthy—though likely in another's hands they would be spiffed up and sent forth with proper fanfare and frame. More mysterious to me is the power that smallish-seeming things exert when up against the eruptive volcanics. Honestly, it's not there haven't been Big Moments—it's just that after a while, things wear down equally. Caught in the same tide, everything rolls in and out together. Everything tends towards the pebbly.
     I could do Pivotal Friendships. Pivotal Animals I Have Known. Pivotal Whole Years, Surgeries, Mean Girls. Escapes and Near-Misses, foreign and domestic. Epic Dumbness. Luck-Beyond-Reason. Scary Wagers. But a "pivot" (which, now that I've said it so many times, sounds like "divot"—a little dug-out gouge where shadows are kept, in a chin or cheek, or on a playing field)—a pivot implies a sharp turning from one place, stage, way of being, to another. And I've rarely snapped to attention like that on command, as expected (though I always liked militaristic turning-on-heels as a kid, that faux clicking-to-attention, so not my family's way, and by which my son, now taller than me, mocks my orders to hurry up.)
     I don't mean to be contrary. I mean only to respond to the suggestion out there in the world at large, that Pivotal Moments are the proper/substantial building blocks of a life or an art. Why am I so resistant? Do I lack a gene for spectacle? (And though I, myself, am not drawn to writing a memoir, I can recommend many exquisite ones—among them, most recently Suzanne Berne's gorgeous Missing Lucile a book in which everything—tender and elegant sentences, an archeological imagination, strong sense of plot, deep reflections on grief—conspires to examine both the subject of the memoir and the impulse for memoir itself. ) Given the ubiquitous nature of the form, I am driven to ask "why am I not so interested in writing memoir?" Have I simply been luckier, less impinged-upon or hurt than others—and thus no Pivotal Life Events rumble and crest? Am I more forgetful? More forgiving? So susceptible to overwhelm that I'm inclined to flatten the peaks and troughs, producing a vastly smoother landscape for the compiling mind to traverse?
     Maybe it's more my general resistance to ranking, too aware of the fact that choosing one Pivotal Life Event for first place in the line up precludes, reduces, and scuttles other good choices and possible orders. I'm wary about setting the stones of "my story." Reluctant to build the path in hindsight (which of course, I realize, is the only reasonable if imperfect way to build such a thing). Of course I have my important oceans, lost friendships, travel mishaps, stunning books, fateful decisions, crashes, regrets, family moments. Moments so searing I'm sure all the scars and splotches must be visible. But in the most daily way, I don't think of the Bigs as making up what I know of as my "self." (How nice it might be, though, to have 3 good PLEs on which to hang my hat, coat, reputation. To point and refer to, revise myself by. To lead, name and order me. Form, plump, pare and turn me. Be my net. Be my ladder.)
     And there's the heart of it: the way in which a self constitutes daily supersedes, for me, the imposition of Pivotal Life Events. So, daily, caught in the act of sketching in the self I know myself to be, I'd be more likely to think of, for example:
     the yellow speckly breakfast table rimmed with a shiny lip of aluminum in my grandmother's and great aunt's breakfast room (a little nook just off the kitchen) which returns me to that long period of running my finger along the silver edge, and the surprise bursting open of scenes that comes best by way of recalling the feel of the metal, the gold flecks of the tabletop floating in a buttery expanse—that is, childhood—(and induces a quick veering into an extended study of yellow: those stretchy Danskin pants/shirt sets we all wore as kids—my favorite the color of bananas—and my shock—edge of my bed, late afternoon—when once my mother suggested we buy a black sweater; black was for grown-ups! How could my otherwise sensitive mother not know that? And just one more veering, via mention-of-black: my black pumps, the French ones, my first, with the ice-blue leather lining, very low cut in front. How perfectly elegant they made me feel, or rather, how by way of them, I located "elegance" for the first time, the sensation very like a sharp hunger).
     Surely this accretion of clothing, colors, moments "made me who I am today." As much as any Single Defining Event, the years of breakfasts with my grandmother and aunt, cakes, muffins, bacon (we never had bacon in our house), bickering (it was called and thus blessed with minorness), the cream in a pitcher, butter on everything, gum under the table stuck there by my mother as a child, my uncle's scrawly name written in pen underneath and next to the gum—these constitute a subject. That the stuck gum was naughtier than the scrawled name—consider the stories, sighs, comments and stances that would have led me to that determination, to that picture of my mother, to being the site of that recognition...
     And I could go on. I could walk for miles right now, fielding all that passes through, rubs off, lends a sense of being—that rush of moments, objects, sensations so much like a cloud of gnats, a cold patch in the ocean, dust motes in a ray of sun that roil, gather, settle around my head and make up the daily weather of a self.

 

 


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