I’ve Slipped into the Third Person

by Jacqueline Doyle

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I’ve slipped into the third person and I can’t seem to get out. 

There, she started a sentence with “I.”  She breathes a sigh of relief, and then realizes that she’s become “she” again, a familiar but alien being, that character on the page who both is and is not her.  Of course the same could be said of “I,” which is just a fiction, after all.

But there’s the intimacy and promise of sincerity in “I.”  Like the beginning of an essay I wrote last year:  “Life on the mental ward was not what I expected.”  We’re there, I’m there.  “Life on the mental ward was not what she expected” starts a wholly different essay, doesn’t it?  Maybe it’s not about me, or if it is about me, it’s about another me.  The crazy one, in 1990, the other one.  Implying that the nameless, pronoun-less writer in 2009 inhabits a sane present quite distant from that previous time.  Which she does, to a point.  Yet nevertheless I am I.  Who I was, what I experienced, in 1990, is surely part of me, my experience, today.  The question is, do I want to claim it?  Or does she want to disclaim it?

Or maybe she wants to play with it.  I mean an “I” with integrity isn’t going to alter the facts, but “she” can do anything she wants, can’t she?  Maybe she wasn’t even on the mental ward.  She just read a few inspiring books set on mental wards and thought, “I could have been there.  I feel like I’ve been there.”  And so she started:  “Life on the mental ward was not what she expected.”  She has our attention.  Anything could happen now.

Maybe she’s still on the mental ward, dazed by antipsychotics, rocking back and forth in a chair in the corner, waiting for her meds, or for group therapy to start, or for something, anything, to happen.

I’m not.

Jacqueline Doyle lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she teaches literature and writing at California State University, East Bay. Her creative nonfiction and flash fiction has recently appeared in a number of online literary journals, including the SoMa Literary Review , Glossolalia , and Flashquake .  Her interview with Dorothy Allison is forthcoming in the print journal Arroyo Literary Review .

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