cinthia ritchie | lies, and saturdays
an excerpt & interview
A truth, and a prologue
A city boy, your father romanticizes the country, believes he will find peace in the green hills and solitary nights. He thinks that looking up and seeing stars, so many stars stretching across the sky will ease the stiffness in his neck, the ache across his back he tells himself is stress but is really a bad heart. In five years he’ll be dead but that’s not the story, or at least not this part of the story.
Though of course it’s a big part. Your father wants you to grow up free and strong so he takes you away, offers you gifts of oak and poplar trees, raspberry bushes along the back property line and inside the woods a dark, hidden world of dirt and shade, worms fatter than your fingers. Oh, the glory! The long afternoons capturing butterflies and bumblebees beneath plastic sand buckets. Sitting under the weeping willow and playing house, your Barbie dolls in their homemade dresses because you can’t afford store bought. You are poor and will soon be poorer,but you don’t care. It’s always summer and you are always outside.
You say in your artistic statement that you are "a woman with a broken voice"; can you please share more about that? And how it has influenced your identity as a writer?
I have an odd disorder called spasmodic dysphonia which often causes my voice to sputter and chop, like a bad cell phone connection. People often assume that I’m weak or passive and treat me as if I’m fragile. Which is amusing, since I’m also an ultra-runner and run remote Alaska trails by myself (earlier today, for instance, I was chased off the trail by a black bear sow during a 24-mile run).
Because I’m not always able to say what I want, I write in my head. I have a constant narrative going on inside my mind, and each night when I sit down to write, this narrative flows out, though, I must admit, not always as easily or as smoothly as I’d like.
I suppose my writing is my voice, my true and real and unbroken voice. Though probably, most writers feel this way, that their writing voice is truer than their speaking voice.
In My First Lie, from Lies, and Saturday you explore the different ways that perception and memory falter in the retelling of a narrative, so what is the truth?
Memory is such a fascinating thing, isn’t it? It’s almost impossible to decipher what is true and what is fabrication, what is real and what is simply the perception we need to clothe ourselves. More and more I believe that the act of writing alters memory in so many small but significant ways that it becomes not what it once was but how we need to see it in the context of whatever we’re writing, how we need it to fit it inside whatever narrative we’re reliving. We use memory to distort reality, yes, but we do so not to lie or deceive ourselves, but to define ourselves. I believe it was Erik Erickson who said that we can never truly see ourselves as we are, for it would be too revealing, too damaging. I think that the same can be said about our memories.
There is a lot of mention of family in Lies, and Saturday , what, do you believe, is the responsibility of writers when discussing family (or other people's lives) in non-fiction? How do you walk that line with ruthless grace?
Oh, I grapple with this all of the time. It’s maddening. I wonder: How can I stay true to myself while still taking account the feelings of family/friends/others?
The answer is: I can’t.
Of course, I understand the power of writing, the power of words, the power of truth. And even though my truth might not be someone else’s truth, I still need to tell it. But here’s the thing: I need to tell it with love. I need to tell it from the gut, not the mind. I need to tell it with the understanding that words are power and once I release them into the universe, I can never take them back.
Would you please share your thoughts and imaginings on the idea of frailty? And how that has shaped your work?
We are all fragile; we simply pretend that we aren’t.
My father died suddenly when I was six-years-old, and his death left a jagged hole in my life, and my soul. It forced me to understand that nothing is final, that death can come at any time or any place and that there really isn’t much we can do about this.
At the same time, it also made me understand that yes, we are all physically fragile, but it is our emotional fragility that is our greatest strength, that being strong enough to be vulnerable, to open up, to risk criticism and ridicule in order to tell our story, however meager we might believe it to be, is the greatest of gifts.
This is how I try to write.
Cinthia Ritchie is an Alaska writer who spends a ridiculous amount of time trail running with a dog named Seriously. She’s a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, finalist in the Cutbank Press Chapbook Contest, semifinalist in the Rose Metal Press Chapbook Contest and recipient of the Sport Literate essay prize, Brenda Ueland Prose Prize, Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award Fellowship, Alaska Arts Council Connie Boochever Fellowship and residencies at Hedgebrook and Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Find her work at New York Times Magazine, Best American Sports Writing 2013, Sport Literate, Mary: A Journal of New Writing, Evening Street Review, Third Wednesday, Into the Void, Forgotten Women Anthology, Damifino Press, Clementine Unbound, Deaf Poets Society and Rattle. Her first novel Dolls Behaving Badly released from Hachette Book Group.