Laraine Herring’s speculative memoir, A Constellation of Ghosts is a work of literary art, and possibly its own (new?) form. In this remarkable book, I find a frame for understanding and surviving the past. A frame for how to grow beyond the stories we accept into our bodies like breath (in the same way we accept breath: in order to survive).
This memoir is also a kind of how-to book about writing, a shape-shifting dive into bones and blood and story and generational connections and ruptures, and all of it, each vessel and bit that makes us human.
(I suspect that, in some ineffable way, this book is a method.)
There’s so much in these pages to hold up and show you—I copied out five pages of jewel-like quotations from this memoir, words I will ponder through time—but for the moment, here are a few glimpses:
“Please listen: I am trying to tell you something true about grief and attachment and the shape-shifter that is home, but I am failing because I can’t look straight at it, so first I’m going to tell you a story about my father because his stories merge with my mother’s stories and I inherited much more than green eyes and a ski-jump nose and a love of books. And today, when I find myself standing between two lives, I have nowhere to look for understanding but the past, which does not die, but reinvents itself, masquerading as new thoughts, laughing at our feeble attempts to quiet its fury. One thing is certain: the past cannot be locked in the trunk. Its messages will tattoo themselves on your skin, and the secret decoder ring is story.”
“When we reach adulthood, we often run into trouble when an early belief system comes into conflict with a goal we are pursuing. Until that point of conflict, we rarely consider what stories might be lurking in the understory of our operating system. We’re often not sure where those early beliefs came from, and we definitely don’t remember choosing, ‘Yes, I’ll have this belief system,’ or ‘No, thank you, not this one.’ We absorb and absorb and absorb everything from our contexts, and because we are animals, our biology kicks in here to with our imperative physical needs. This means the larger people who are feeding and housing us when we’re infants and children have a disproportionate amount of influence over the stories we take in. They, too, may not be saying, ‘Look, this is how things are,’ (though sometimes they do), but they will be interacting with each other and with us in ways that will influence what we internalize about our new world. They will be contributing authors to our stories.”
“Shadow-you is holding the wild cat stroking your brick nose and wondering how to love what will leave, wondering how to leave what she loves. The cat sleeps.
‘You fed her,’ says Raven. ‘What you feed will stay.’”
I love this book, and I know I will return to it. (Laraine Herring is also a wonderful teacher! You can find out more about her work here.)