It’s not every day you get to survive a haunted golf cart ride.
Three of us, tingling with excitement, squeezed onto the vinyl seat. We were elated that the S’s had chosen us, deemed us worthy to endure the exhilarant terror of the golf cart. What more was there to life than this? Then the engine roared to life, and I knew immediately that we had made a terrible, terrible mistake. The contraption bucked and rattled, clearly unhappy with new presence of such naïve, inexperienced passengers. I knew deep in my shaking bones that pleading for mercy wouldn't save us, so I clung to the metal bar with all the desperation of a warrior making their last stand. My friend held onto me for support, but I'd already volunteered to speak at her funeral; I couldn't keep her on the mad chariot of death if it chose to cast her away. Mr. S. had promised that the seat belts would protect us, but where were the seat belts?
However, despite all our expectations, we somehow emerged unscathed from the wrath of the haunted golf cart, and that glorious ride is indelibly seared into my terror-tinged memory. Near that new memory is an old one, recurring echoes of the gang I somehow started last workshop. I longed for those friendships to return, but they belonged in another week and another year. Still, I came back to Kansas expecting sameness.
Of course, this workshop was different, gloriously different, but I still wanted the same answers, the same peace and joy I found last year. Instead, I found a different kind of sameness in a handful of all-too-familiar emotions. Sadness. Fear. Loneliness. I shook them off as best I could and tried my hardest to Have A Good Time. I mostly succeeded, but the expectations lingered. At the top of the list floated the longing for another workshop epiphany. “Fair Winds and Following Seas” gifted me with the courage and humility I needed to finally become the person I’d been afraid to be. But this week passed without another blinding realization. Instead of driving away my ghosts, the workshop seemed to intensify them, amplifying the noise in my head until I couldn’t hear anything else.
Then one day in critique group, my friend handed me back my excerpt. She’d circled all the ‘I’s in one paragraph, revealing far too many of that particular pronoun for a few sentences to contain. While I didn’t think much of it at the time (beyond a note to revise my narrator’s train of thought), those spirals of ink contained that missing epiphany: my life is a paragraph with too many ‘I’s.
As a narrator of a first-person novel, it’s impossible not to talk about myself. However, no two novels are the same. Some narrators choose to begin each sentence with themselves, with an ‘I’. They talk about the things they’ve done, the things they’ve accomplished, the golf carts they’ve survived. But others manage to find different subjects. They manage to talk about anything and everything, and when they do talk about themselves they gloss over it with a grace that lifts others up and fills them with excitement.
I’m that first narrator. The proud, selfish narrator that can’t think of another way to begin a sentence.
To be fair, I’ve done my share of interesting things. In Kansas alone, I danced and sang on stage with a myriad of joyful personages, joined the dab squad, wore multiple tiaras, and impersonated Darth Vader. I even survived a haunted golf cart ride. But I forgot that even though the narrator is important, there are other characters in our first-person novels. Some of those characters are known and well beloved, while others are little more than annoying necessities. The richest stories explore these other characters and acknowledge how important they are, even if we don’t always like them. Even if they hurt us. Even if we give and don’t get anything back.
My workshop epiphany reminded me that my first-person novel is very much a work-in-progress. I’m still afraid to walk into a roomful of people, my perseverance is weaker than my muscles, and wonder is awfully hard to come by—and that’s not even mentioning such unattainable things as selflessness. But the workshop managed to penetrate all my cowardice and weakness and teach me one thing: life’s a little bit like a haunted golf cart ride, One has to have courage to get on it, to do what we know we should, and, before that, the perseverance to wait for our one glorious turn. But when that turn comes, we hold on, screaming and laughing, to the wonder of that ride, because after the sadness, after the fear, after the loneliness, there is always joy.