From this distance the city is beautiful, the way a memory is beautiful, stripped of the mundane details of survival. – from “A Different Person” by Brenda Miller

It makes no sense. The knots should really come out. How is it possible that one thing can get so wrapped up on itself that I cannot, even with hours of work, get it untangled? How is a woman supposed to finish an afghan if she can’t even get the yarn to loosen in her fingers?
'Tangled Yarn' photo (c) 2008, Nina Jean - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
Telling the stories of my life often feels like untangling a skein of yarn. I look back on the years and see the tales spinning back and into themselves, repetition of pattern, knots of pain, the glorious swoops and tucks of beauty. To make them workable as story, though, I must unstring them into lines before I can knot them back up again. Some days, it’s not the writing that’s the hard part; it’s the remembering.

As Julia Kasdorf said, “my greatest fears/get told in the stories I already know.” It’s seeing those fears writ large on the cavern of my spirit that makes writing hard sometimes. To get space, to find words, I have to climb back amongst the knots and tangles and push them apart with the soft pads of my fingers or tug at them with the teeth on a clenched jaw. I must pull them apart to their simplest form in order to see them as stories. This is not easy work.

Just like working out the knots in a tangled skein of yarn, sometimes the story has begun to fray in my memory, like yarn that spindles off to tie itself to another strand. In these places, I must cut that string that binds one story to another to let the tales tell themselves, to help me see what they really are, without being bound to one another. Sometimes it’s just the tiniest strand that keeps me and my history all tied up. Sometimes my teeth have to become a knife to free me from myself.

But when it’s done, when I’ve gone back through the skein, the history, and laid it out, it’s beautiful. . . not painless, not easy . . . but beautiful, the way something seen from a distance always is.

Maybe this is why stories are sometimes called yarns.