Hannah Michelle is a sister-proclaimed and self-identified huge weirdo. She is most nourished by storytelling (and re-telling), snap peas dipped in peanut butter, and communities working to advance social justice. She lives in San Fransisco where she studies medicine with a particular interest in how physicians seek and understand their patients' stories.
Hannah’s essay “Sister” will appear in the Fall 2018 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Tuesday, October 2, for special savings and discounts.
In “Sister,” readers enter the world of siblings who become closer as their lives inevitably take them farther apart. Some young writers take years to reflect upon their family relationships before attempting to write about them. Why did you decide to do it now, and does putting the relationships on paper change the way you think about them in the present?
I wrote the first draft of "Sister" nearly five years ago without any intention of sharing it with the world. As the piece has evolved, the essay itself has come to be an important part of my relationship with my sister—a sort of manifesto of our sisterhood. Over the last years, the essay has accompanied us both on new adventures and life transitions. It has served as a reminder to us both—as we've tried on adulthood—of the stories we come from and the permanence of our relationship as sisters.
Just recently, I was with my family sitting on some public benches. Out of nowhere, my sister decided she wanted to switch seats with me and proceeded to climb entirely over me in a manner that involved a great deal of shmushing. I noticed a middle-aged man witness this ordeal from afar and pointed out to my sister how peculiar it must have been to see two adult humans behave in such a way. "May you always climb over your sister," we began repeating in prayer together.
This recent moment and the moments portrayed in "Sister" remind me that my relationships need not follow the classic scripts of growing up. These stories keep me weird and in awe of the humans I love. While the essay means a lot to me and my sister, I wrote it to be bigger than us. It is about sisterhood, intertwined identities, emotional truths, and growing up. I feel drawn to write about the things that are most alive for me right now, and this is it, baby!
“Sister” presents us with a portrait of your younger sister growing up. In that act of portraiture, you are forced to confront the ways in which she may or may not need you as a mentor. Were their other stories you looked to for inspiration in planning this essay, or did it come organically from the way you two have interacted over the years?
I am inspired by other creative nonfiction writers like Audre Lorde, Joan Didion, and Susan Orlean, and by the work of many oral storytellers and improvisors. In writing "Sister," these influences helped me to think about how to bring a character alive, how to put myself into the piece, and how to make connections in service of evoking larger themes.
Ultimately though, "Sister" wrote itself. There was no racking my brain for material or meticulous analysis. These are the stories of our sisterhood woven together in the way that feels most true to how we understand ourselves and our history together.
Moving forward, do you foresee personal relationships as a topic you’d like to continue to explore through writing, or are you currently exploring other topics?
I was recently exposed by some fellow outdoorsy friends as being less purely inclined towards exploration and appreciation of nature in and of itself, and instead more interested in nature as a vehicle for relationships. I was then accused of being most interested in nearly everything as a vehicle for relationships—movies, exercise, rain, cookies, etc.
So all that to say, yes, I foresee myself continuing to explore relationships through writing. I am especially drawn now towards writing on themes of identity, privilege, power, and oppression.