Lidia Yuknavitch has some stories to tell
Author and ‘misfit’ comes to Park City
Lidia Yuknavitch remembers giving her first TED talk in February 2016.
She had to go on stage directly after Grammy winner John Legend.
“I stood up and it was like, ‘Oh, great. I can’t feel my legs,’” Yuknavitch told The Park Record during a phone call from her home in Portland, Oregon. “It nearly killed me.”
That TED talk, however, brightened the spotlight around Yuknavitch, who many people know as a self-proclaimed misfit, teacher and award-winning author.
The Park City Institute will present an evening with Lidia Yuknavitch at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 4.
The evening will give the audience a glimpse inside her life, but also, Yuknavitch said, a glimpse into their own lives.
“We need to keep talking with each other and get more stories out — now, more than ever,” she said. “I may be biased because this is what I do, but we’re being fed such a scary set of narratives right now from many different places.
“I know not everyone agrees with me, but I’m of the opinion that we have some harmful stories aimed at us right now. I feel we need to stand up and say something back and make stories that have a chance of resting the stories that come at us that feel off or unjust.”
Yuknavitch’s life has taught her some valuable lessons that she uses as an arsenal when it comes to telling her story.
“I’ve had some peaks and valleys, you could say,” she said.
The valleys include growing up in a household with a sexually abusive father and alcoholic mother, and then finding herself struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.
The peaks include a PhD in English Literature and teaching literature, film and women’s studies, as well as penning a number of books, including the novel “Dora: A Headcase” and a memoir, “The Chronology of Water.”
“I feel lucky to be a person whose was moved to write, draw and paint, because those things give you the ability to take what’s happening to you in your real life and real body and project it out to a place where you can sort of look at it,” she said. “I think the one thing that gets us stuck is feeling what’s happening to you gets locked in your heart and you don’t know what to do with it.”
Yuknavitch feels everyone should try writing, or painting or dancing, whether or not they become proficient.
“Expression gives you an ability to look at things differently,” she said. “Once you can see a story, you can see a back story and the possibility for change and beauty, rather than the feeling of ‘my world is ending and everything is horrible.’ Storytelling releases you from that ego place where you have that terrible feeling.”
Yuknavitch remembers when she began writing her own story.
“It’s a sad place in my life, because it’s when my daughter died the day she was born,” she said. “That broke me down, and I went to a place where some people go to, that psychosis where you think about giving up. And what started coming out of me was incoherent rambles and blather.”
Still, Yuknavitch had the sense of writing these thoughts down, and after she received a lot of help and counseling to help her deal with her loss and grief, she looked at the pages of writings and saw stories amidst the chaos.
“I began to realize, lo and behold, they weren’t crazy ramblings,” she said. “They were like a map of characters of women and girls of different ages that I thought should be told.”
That philosophy is what started Yuknavitch on the road to publish “The Chronology of Water.”
“A lot of writers find me and tell me they want to work through their trauma via writing, and I know going back to certain events can be difficult,” she said. “It can hurt. It’s kind of like a crucible that you walk through over and over again. But the truth is that it hurts more if you hold it in your whole life, and that will come out and impact your life and body, whether you voluntarily get it out or not.
“I try to remind people that you’re going to experience some pain around it one way or another. And if you choose expression, rather than repression, there is a chance that somebody besides you may benefit from hearing your story.”
Writing “The Chronology of Water” was one of the hardest things Yuknavitch has ever done.
“I had a lot of nightmares,” she said. “I drank too much wine and I had overtime in therapy. But in the end I found it was harder to carry all of that around.”
Last year, independent filmmaker Andy Mingo bought the option to make the book into a film.
“What some people don’t know is Andy is my husband,” Yuknavitch said with a laugh. “The heart of our relationship has been artistic collaboration. So, if anyone could do the book justice, he could, and that’s for sure.”
While publishing books or making a film are two proven paths for telling stories, speaking to a live audience is also an rewarding experience, Yuknavitch said.
“I feel like it creates a kinetic energy,” she said. “You can feel it in the room when a story is moving a group of people. It’s like performing a concert, and there is an electrical current that runs through everybody.”
That’s why Yuknavitch believes storytelling is more important today than it has ever been. But the storyteller has to tell stories responsibly.
“One hopes that the stories you tell are not engaged as diatribes or propaganda, the things that contribute to the problem,” she said. “As a storyteller who is not a journalist, my aim is still to scratch at the truth, but open up meanings that are variable and multiple.
“I never think of myself as a teacher, because I think that something will pop through the kinetics that we create together. I’ve facilitated talks in prisons and rehab centers, and I’ve never felt anything as beautiful as seeing a person know, even just for a moment, that their story matters to someone.”
Park City Institute will present an evening with Lidia Yuknavitch at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 4, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd. Tickets range from $29 to $79 and are available by visiting www.ecclescenter.org.
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