In Hebrew, the term for a book’s release is yetziah la’or, literally its “exit to the light.” Over the nearly four years since my first scribbled notes, As Figs in Autumn has been for me many different things, and I expect that after exiting to the light it will continue to be more. As I look back on the project, I am told that Delphinium’s readers enjoy receiving insights on the author’s process; it will be my privilege to share some window into mine.
Here I could only begin with what began the process, what required it. Any memoir, I believe, carries an aspect of restoration for its author. As distinguished from an autobiography taking on a life’s entire arc, a memoir declares a more targeted mission, addressing itself to the unfinished business of a particular time. To write on that time is a matter of self-reclamation: never, of course, by changing the past, but by reclaiming one’s voice and presence—indeed, humanity—where one was made to feel without them before. In that act alone of revisiting, renewing feeling and meaning on one’s own terms, reasserting what he earlier lacked, he restores wholeness where there was fracture before. “Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage,” goes a lyric I’ve always loved, and yet I find it is not the perfect truth, for in that singing itself, there is a most un-ratlike freedom which was not yet won before he found the words.
In this view, it cannot surprise that so many memoirs focus on their authors’ times of helplessness: times of, above all, lack of agency in their own lives. Memoirs of addiction, or of grave illness, or of actual imprisonment all represent frequent themes. In the case of a soldier, who is stripped—not just by force of circumstance but by force of law—of the standing to feel and think and act of his own accord, it is a true act of restoration (and audacity) to recount these same events, yet now with a subversively human eye. This is a function served even by a soldier’s private writing, whether or not he goes on to place his words in public view. Likewise, this being the first mission of my writing, it was for me at first, then for a small circle of friends, well before its evolution to this yetziah la’or.
As Figs in Autumn is a book on identity, and on loss, and on family, and on home, though perhaps first it is a book on seeing each one of these through the soldier’s reordered world. Soldierhood, as I have written, was a place of yearning—and once ready, I found myself pouring page after page in order to record that yearning, and to make sense of what was yearned for.
Readers of the book may recall my wonder at the Hebrew language’s twinning of the words for “whole” (shalem) and “peace” (shalom), its implication that a state of wholeness and a state of peace are an identical essence, for the individual no less than for the wider world. Such a conviction—that is, retelling as a method of becoming more whole—was what carried this project from birth to its exit to the light, and I am thrilled to be retelling every word.
*Smashing Pumpkins. Lyrics to “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. 1995.
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