three things: 1/11/17

1)  I think a lot about the truthiness of things, and of course I have my historical, personal reasons for it. I read this passage in Fall on Your Knees, a powerful book by Anne-Marie MacDonald, and it has stayed with me:

“It’s a sin for Lily to let Mercedes think it was Daddy who beat up Frances. But he has done it in the past. Surely truth can be borrowed across time without perishing. Shelf life, so to speak.”

“Surely truth can be borrowed across time….” That. And the shelf life of truth, that too. Freud talked about ‘screen memories,’ one that may in itself be false but that masks a deeper, true memory of great emotional significance. And in Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch said,

“The more a person recalls a memory, the more they change it. Each time they put it into language, it shifts. The more you describe a memory, the more likely it is that you are making a story that fits your life, resolves the past, creates a fiction you can live with. It’s what writers do. Once you open your mouth, you are moving away from the truth of things. According to neuroscience, the safest memories are locked in the brains of people who can’t remember. Their memories remain the closest replica of actual events. Underwater. Forever.”

And so, as I continue this extremely difficult process of writing my two memoirs, and as I myself am not always absolutely certain about the truth of my memories in certain aspects, the truth of my own experiences even when my body knows the fact of them, the question of the unreliable narrator haunts me. I’m unreliable in so very many ways — including the mere fact of having told my stories a number of times — and yet I insist on the deep truth of all my memories, of all my experiences. Did this experience happen like this in the moment I am writing about, in this specific scene? Can I borrow truth across time without losing its truth? I insist that I can. Owning, telling, remembering, writing the truth of your life is not the same as being on a witness stand accusing another person of a specific crime, for which they can be judged and punished.

Right? I think so. (And if you are strong, read Chronology of Waterhere’s my GoodReads review, it was such a powerful story. The link also includes the material I highlighted, passages I loved for one reason or another.)

And in a funny twist, this quote was in my quote widget (in the right sidebar) when I was writing:

“A common feature of many theories of trauma is the idea that the causative—the wounding—event is not remembered but relived, as it is in the flashbacks of combat veterans, experienced anew with a visceral immediacy that affords no critical distance. To remember something, you have to consign it to the past—put it behind you—but trauma remains in the present; it fills that present entirely. You are inside it. Your mouth is always filled with the taste of blood. The killers are always crashing through the brush behind you. Some researchers believe that trauma bypasses the normal mechanisms of memory and engraves itself directly on some portion of the brain, like a brand. Cattle are branded to signify that they are someone’s property, and so, too, were slaves. The brand of trauma signifies that henceforth you yourself are property, the property of that which has injured you. The psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi believed that trauma is characterized by the victim’s helpless identification with the perpetrator, and elsewhere in the literature one often comes across the word “possession.” The moment of trauma marks an event horizon after which memory ceases. Or else memory breaks down, so that the victim can reconstruct the event but not the feeling that accompanied it, or alternatively only the feeling.” —Peter Trachtenberg

2)  Here’s a poem I really love, and hope you like it, too:

REALISM (Beth Bachmann)

God said, your name is mud
and the thing about mud is you
got to throw it down
repeatedly
to remove the air
and sometimes cut it
and rejoin it with another part.
If stars are made of dust,
it’s not the same stuff,
God said;
you can’t make a hut out of it,
only heaven,
and when I said dust to dust,
that’s not what I meant.

3) I read a collection of short stories by a new (to me!) writer named Carl MacDougall — Someone Always Robs the Poor. He’s a very well-established Scottish writer, and the stories are set almost entirely in Scotland and most are about alcohol in some way, and frequently violence.

The stories often left me stunned, like the powerful story “Korsakoff’s Psychosis” that took me right into the experience of a late-stage alcoholic, with all the horrors of that life. It was hard to read that story, and hard to look away even though I wanted to, because the prose slipped me right into the terrible, tragic remnants of mind. The story “William John MacDonald” broke the narrative form to tell a terrible sad story (one of many stories related to drunk men) of a young man’s tragic encounter with violence and drinking. On occasion I had to read a page a few times — in part because of cultural references that weren’t familiar to me, and in part because of the style of storytelling. I was always glad to read and re-read.

On the whole, the stories were sad and tragic, although they were never told with melodrama. Instead, they were quiet and deeply emotional, and I sometimes paused when one ended, and held it for a long while before I slipped into the next. What a powerful collection of stories that will haunt me. I read and ARC, and the book won’t be published until February 23, but I heartily recommend it. It’s a quick read; I read the bulk of it on the flight from New York to Austin, about 3.5 hours.

I just like to share!

Through the terrible stress of this everlasting nightmare of our presidential election, I have relied on a number of ways of coping — some have been good, and some have NOT been so good. And I’ve been inconsistent in using the good ones, perhaps because the benefit isn’t immediate and my stress is begging for immediate relief (even though they help me more, and without causing trouble). Yoga, walking, cooking beautiful and healthy food, meditation, those have flickered in and out of use.

My less-good ways of coping have filled me with junk. Other stresses. And even though I know this, going in — as I eat another donut, or another BLOCK O’ CHEESE — I often feel completely unable to stop myself. In New York especially, since Marc keeps a fridge just about as opposite mine as possible, and since he makes things for me like gravlax, my stress eating is less good for me than when I’m in Austin. After I inhale a pound of cheese, let’s say, I feel very crappy (to say the least, and I’m trying to say the least, here).

Another way I’ve been dealing with this stress has been a constant consuming of social media. I am on Facebook non-stop, and while I am reading and responding to posts that present the same political position I share, and that help me feel less alone, it also keeps me stirred up. But it’s become a compulsion, an impossible-to-resist response to stress.

It’s also true that when I’m here in Austin, I sit alone in my house day in and day out. I will have a little social activity here or there, but I sit in silence all day and night, and without anyone else to interact with at all. And I like that! It’s not that I don’t like that. I really do, especially in the days after I’ve been in New York and feel overwhelmed by people and noise and non-stop interruptions. The silence and solitude are wonderful! AND again and again I’ll think about something, or read something, or see something, and turn to share it with…… ah, no one. There’s no one here. No one to say, “Hey, listen to this!” to. And so that’s another reason I hop onto Facebook. Wow, look at this. Hey, you won’t believe this! Ah, read this beautiful thing. Look. Listen. Read. Wow.

I’ve missed my blog. My absence from it has been due to a lot of reasons; I’m doing other writing, long-form writing, and trying to spend my time in that manuscript, and otherwise I’ve been kind of blanked-out with stress and fear. It occurred to me that I could help myself with two of these things in one fell swoop: Instead of machine gunning Facebook, I can collect the things I want to share with someone and put them in a post here. That will have the benefit of making them easier for me to find again, too. Aside from political stuff (which I will not share here because I just really need to avoid it all completely for my own sanity), the stuff I share will fall into the ordinary categories of things I share on Facebook: book recommendations, interesting articles, poetry, images, family stuff.

And so, here goes:

  • Do you know Hélène Cixous? I hadn’t heard of her until I read a quote about her by Lidia Yuknavitch, so I looked her up and now I must MUST read her. This quote seems especially relevant in the United States as we are teetering on the brink of living under a Christian Taliban: “But I am just a woman who thinks her duty is not to forget. And this duty, which I believe I must fulfill, is: “as a woman” living now I must repeat again and again “I am a woman,” because we exist in an epoch still so ancient and ignorant and slow that there is still always the danger of gynocide.” ― Hélène Cixous, The Book of Promethea
lidia
read Lidia.
  • The quote from Lidia Yuknavitch that sent me to Hélène Cixous was from The Chronology of Water, which I highly recommend: “With Hélène Cixous you must close your eyes and open your mouth. Wider. So open your throat opens. Your esophagus. Your lungs. Wider. So open your spine unclatters. Your hips swim loose. Your womb worlds itself. Wider. Open the well of your sex. Now speak your body from your other mouth. Yell corporeal prayer. This is writing.” WOW.
  • Have you ever read May Sarton? I’ve always wanted to and somehow never have, yet, but yesterday Sherlock sent Peggy and me this BrainPickings post about May Sarton and the use of anger in creativity. That’s a thing you hear, right? “Turn your anger towards your work.” Transform that energy into creation. I need to carefully read that piece and think about it, because I hope it has something for me. I am swamped by the experience of anger, overwhelmed by it, and often paralyzed by it. So when I feel it, I become scared that I’ll explode, that I’ll express it awfully, and often I do, and it’s just tough, and especially tough for women. I once asked members of my book club to write about a time they were angry (we were tentatively trying these writing sessions), and one member became absolutely enraged at my suggestion, saying she doesn’t get angry because it’s not useful. The time didn’t seem right to point out just how angry she was. 🙂 But I am in desperate need of learning how to manage anger! It’s my oldest lesson I have yet to learn, so I’m hoping the BrainPickings post and then reading some Sarton will help. Any words you might have on either Sarton or anger will be appreciated.
  • The idea of living in Australia or New Zealand has become kind of irresistible; a thread developed on a Facebook post by a friend who originally shared this video:

[embedplusvideo height=”450″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/2f42PPI” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/9v97xH6Bof0?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=9v97xH6Bof0&width=640&height=450&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=0&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep7574″ /]

[First…I mean, RIGHT????] One friend responded to the video by asking me what it’s like to live here right now, and in the ensuing conversation, I got invitations to move to all the major cities of Australia, with explanations of their great aspects, and a bunch of bids for life in NZ, which is not just gorgeous but is also lacking in snakes. 🙂 They were just so adorable, every last one, and every time I woke up during the night, mid-Trump-panic, reading that thread made me grin so hard.

  • Today’s poem: Carpe Diem, by Jim Harrison:

Night and day
seize the day, also the night —
a handful of water to grasp.
The moon shines off the mountain
snow where grizzlies look for a place
for the winter’s sleep and birth.
I just ate the year’s last tomato
in the year’s fatal whirl.
This is mid-October, apple time.
I picked them for years.
One Mcintosh yielded sixty bushels.
It was the birth of love that year.
Sometimes we live without noticing it.
Overtrying makes it harder.
I fell down through the tree grabbing
branches to slow the fall, got the afternoon off.
We drove her aqua Ford convertible into the country
with a sack of red apples. It was a perfect
day with her sun-brown legs and we threw ourselves
into the future together seizing the day.
Fifty years later we hold each other looking
out the windows at birds, making dinner,
a life to live day after day, a life of
dogs and children and the far wide country
out by rivers, rumpled by mountains.
So far the days keep coming.
Seize the day gently as if you loved her.

Happy Saturday, y’all! It’s going to be a great one for me — birthday lunch with a friend, and the lit crawl tonight with poetry group friends. Also: It’s my BIRTHDAY EVE YO! xoxoxoxo

TODAY"S PHOTO: Marnie is in Seattle to exhibit her new book, and she sent me this picture, note the caption. :)
TODAY”S PHOTO: Marnie is in Seattle to exhibit her new book, and she sent me this picture, note the caption. 🙂

I could use your thoughts, please

lidiaSo I was listening to this beautiful short series of free writing lectures by Lidia Yuknavitch, author of the gutting memoir Chronology of WaterHer writing is not like anyone else’s. I hadn’t read any of her books, only short stories here and there, but I had Chronology of Water on my Kindle and after seeing these lecture clips, I decided to read it finally.

W.O.W. I can only read the book in snips and sips, it’s pretty raw and powerful, and quite hard. She does a thing I’d give anything to do, in my own voice. I recommend the book, or anything else she has written.

In one of the lectures she talks about the central importance of our metaphors, and in finding the story underneath the story, and the one underneath that. She said that if you just tell the story you’ve always told, it will be dead, and she provided a really great exercise that I’m dying to try. But in her conversation about metaphor, she said she’d shared an early draft of Chronology of Water with a trusted reader and she asked for deep feedback. Among the feedback, the reader mentioned that Lidia’s central metaphor was water, which she simply had not realized . . . even though a huge part of the story is her early life as an athlete, a competitive swimmer, and her return to swimming, and her feelings of drowning, and on and on and on. Realizing her central metaphor was a crystallizing and powerful thing, not just for her book but for her understanding of herself, and her life.

She said everyone operates with a few metaphors, and she named a couple of others that echo through her stories and her life. I thought it was fascinating that she couldn’t see her own most central metaphor, but at the same time I totally get it. Fish don’t see the water!

I do have a sense of one big metaphor in my life (by which I mean a metaphor that I see in my recurring experiences — it’s my storytelling, not something that exists in a reified way in my life), but I wondered about others. And since sometimes other people can see you more clearly than you see yourself, I thought I’d ask. If you’ve been around the palace for a while, what would you say are my metaphors? I’ll welcome any thoughts you may have.

And if you’re interested in Lidia (an interest that will be so rewarding, you’ll see), here’s her TED talk about being a misfit:

Lidia Yuknavitch: The beauty of being a misfit

To those who feel like they don't belong: there is beauty in being a misfit. Author Lidia Yuknavitch shares her own wayward journey in an intimate recollection of patchwork stories about loss, shame and the slow process of self-acceptance. "Even at the moment of your failure, you are beautiful," she says.

Thanks, y’all.

an accidental year-long reading project

When I was a kid, I got these book sets: four Hemingways, four Fitzgeralds, and four Faulkners. I read one Hemingway and liked it (I was 9 maybe, not real discriminating) so I read the other three next. Then I did that with the Fitzgeralds, and then I tried but was too young to be able to figure out the Faulkners. The sad effect of that project was that I just cannot tell you which of the Hemingways was the one where the guy died alone in the mud under the bridge. (All of them, I think…) Which Fitzgerald was it where the rich people were really sad, even though they drifted from one party to another? (All of them, I think.)

KOKSo I have this tendency anyway, but this year something amazing and dramatic happened. I met Karl Ove Knausgaard, and then I met Elena Ferrante. There was a lot of buzz around both, wildly positive (and voluminous) reviews, an occasional snark, but I was curious and willing. Both were multiple volumes, and both were written in another language, as it turned out (Norwegian and Italian). I started the first Knausgaard and hit the middle and lost steam, but a bit later I picked it up again and that was that. I read that whole book, then the second, then the third, then the fourth, and then I wished with all my heart that the translator would get off his ass and get the others done. (A total of 1,871 pages…. [link to the series on Amazon])

ferranteThe same thing happened with the Ferrante, in its own sidling way. I was put off by the covers, which look old-fashioned and uninteresting, but I picked up the first book and that was that. Those I consumed, the way an alcoholic throws back the first drink of the day. I had to read to stop the shakes, man. (A total of 1,664 pages…. [link to the series on Amazon])

I didn’t really realize the extreme similarity between the two until I was in Ferrante Book 3, I think, but Knausgaard and Ferrante had undertaken exactly the same project. Both sought to intimately portray their inner lives from childhood through adulthood, and to capture their development. These aren’t journals, they aren’t diary entries, they both transform those details into something far greater, something that reaches for universal. Ferrante is older (I think, she remains anonymous) so her books took her character through an older age than Knausgaard, who is only 47. Knausgaard’s books are more openly memoir, partly because Ferrante will not reveal her identity, but I’ve read an interview with her in which she admits they’re drawn from her life to a large degree. And after all, she gave her main character her own name, Elena. There’s also the issue of male story vs female story in this project, and while I thoroughly enjoyed Knausgaard and can’t wait for the next volume [Goodreads review of volume 4 here), the Ferrante was just tectonic for me. I wrote about it in my Goodreads review, here.

When James Joyce published Ulysses, there was a sense that no more literary novels could be written, because he had taken the form out to its farthest edge and done something so startling that anything that came after could only be derivative. He had portrayed one day in the life of a man in its extraordinary complexity. The kind of novelists I prefer to read are those who are grappling with this issue — portraying the truth of what it is to live. I’ve never been interested in potboilers, or genre fiction, or even heavily plot-driven novels. Nothing against them, they’re just not for me.

What fascinates me, and what is so hard to capture well and accurately in a novel, is the big mess of what it is to live in the world. What it is to wrestle with yourself, your ambitions, your needs, your desires, the world, other people. What it is to think about all those things, too. Thinking is chaotic, a bit of focus and then a wandering, then another thought intrudes, that reminds you of something else, back to your focus, interruption, thread of focus lost. We are all essentially contradictions, too, whether it’s over a period of time, or whether we are ambivalent, or whether we change and grow. I want this I want its opposite. I believe this and this contradictory thing. I am this and I am also its shadow. And our shadow! That lives inside us too, in corners, and how do we negotiate with it? What kind of deals do we make, what kind of games do we play, when and how do we indulge it, what horrors do we anticipate if it gets out? We do things we know we shouldn’t, we do things and we don’t know why, we don’t do things we want to do, or know we should. How do you capture that complexity in a novel?

Apparently you do it in multiple very long volumes. I’m the kind of reader who would’ve purposely undertaken this as a project, reading both series of books—binge reading, I guess—but this happened purely by accident. I can’t believe it I didn’t realize it until the seventh book out of eight, but the books are immersive, because they’re both very good at capturing interiority. They’re both very good at including the granular bits of life (Knausgaard more than Ferrante, who focuses a little more on the emotional/psychological). Because the fact is, that’s the bulk of our life. A frightening amount of our lives, if you think about it, is just going on inside our heads. Even when our bodies are moving around in space, doing things glorious or troubling, interacting with other bodies, think about what’s going on in your head: thoughts about what you’re doing, fears, anxieties, emotion, determining or experiencing meaning, or its absence. An overwhelming amount of our lives is captured by the granular boring details. Emptying the trash. Putting away groceries. Time at work. Meetings. Driving, showering, sleeping. Trying to get him to do the things you keep asking him to do. Wasting time.

I’ve got no ending for this post, I’ve just been thinking about it and needed to get it out of my head. Read Ferrante. Most people end up thinking somehow she was writing about them. I did. You might.

a post, in two parts

PART I

The tide has turned. The worm has turned. It’s a beautiful morning. The world has turned. Morning has broken. And many other sayings like that.

Light is coming back. Light and air are coming back to me. Yesterday I actually laughed spontaneously, and I haven’t had “those” thoughts for three straight days, now. If bad language offends you, turn away (but then you probably aren’t one who reads my damn blog 🙂 ) — I think it’s fucking ending. Halle-fuckin-lujah. And thus ends the F word, in this post, anyway.

For you professional depression-havers out there, you know how it sidles up alongside you, a dark day turns into a week but you know, people have down weeks. A week slips into two, then three, and then you’re in it and don’t even remember that it ever was anything but this. I wish it announced itself in some way, that would make it all so much easier.

I told people slowly, very slowly, too slowly. One here, another there. This one. A hint of it to that one so as not to freak out that person. A secret group, and then another secret group, and then the last one, and then that last blog post and a public-ish post on open Facebook. Damn depression, the way it makes you unable to think and see! There was pretty much a linear correlation (thus ends the statistical stuff) between help I got and people I told. And a big duh right there. If I weren’t depressed I’d have caught it on the second person. So the next time this comes around, as I sadly imagine it will even as I hope it doesn’t, I hope I can remember this, and simply tell all my support people, my friends, those who love me, those I love, and accept the help they so generously give. Just do that. Tell, and as soon as you can. And as many people who love you as you can. You’ll know the ones who’ll get cold, or freak out, so don’t tell them but tell all the others, the ones who will rush toward you in even the slightest of ways.

This morning I was telling a group of friends about what this giant all-out launching of love has done for me, and a sweet little bit of writing slipped out of my fingertips so I’ll plagiarize myself: “this kind of love bombing I’ve been receiving ever since I went ‘public’ with it has been like a booster rocket, sending me above the ocean’s surface where I can take deep gulps of good air. And even if I go down again, I don’t go nearly as far.”  [pretty good imagery if I do say so myself. thank you, subconscious.]

Of course every time is different, and it’s different for every person (different each person x different each time = I can’t do the math but that’s a lot of instances), but I learned something this time that I want to try for others, and I hope to ask for, for myself. When you are way down in the hole, people who love you remind you how much they love you, and of course they do, and you know it even if you can’t feel it while you’re down there. But the nasty little sentences I was resisting were these: No one would miss you. It wouldn’t matter if you just died.

People not only showed up, they gently took me out for a drink, for dinner, they held my hand and looked into my eyes and told me what I meant to them, they told me they understood because they suffer depression, they sent me little notes, or they bought me music, or they wrote me letters, or they sent me gifts. They listened to me with great heart and compassion, and I could see it in their glowing eyes. They pinged me every single morning asking how I was, darling, and sometimes again at night. If I said it was really really bad, I got good practical advice — go outside and take a very fast walk, go do it now. And text me when you’re back.

And sometimes they wrote out what it would mean to them if I weren’t here. And there it was, the very real argument against those miserable thoughts. Liar! She would be devastated, and in these particular ways! Liar! Her world would change in these particular ways! Liar! Liar! Liar! Not only were those like silver bullets against the thoughts, they were also overwhelmingly wonderful to read — not that people would suffer, but that my presence in their life means all those things.

And so I will carry this with me out of the darkness, and not just wait until someone is depressed to tell them what they mean in my life, how important they are in the very fiber of my life, but tell them all. (I mean, not all the time, for heaven’s sake. 🙂 )  You might file this away for the next time someone you love is severely depressed. It may or may not help them, but there is no way it can hurt. And maybe it will just make them feel too guilty to leave. Whatever works, man. Whatever works.

Part II

Just the right person came into my life at just the right time. I didn’t recognize it at the beginning, because I was too far gone in grief and loss, and she went out of the country for six months. I kind of feel like I’ve been waiting all my life for her, but don’t tell her that, she’ll get embarrassed.

I’ll only be able to explain her importance when I write the dedication and acknowledgements for my memoir, but thanks to her, it’s an entirely different book now, and it’s amazing and flowing. Yesterday I wrote for five hours straight, non-stop, two chapters, 7326 words. I could have written chapter 3 and chapter 4, probably, if I didn’t have to stop and clean the kitchen and brush my teeth and go to bed. (And take my mighty-strong extra antidepressant, which is also part of the equation in addition to all that love bombing.)

And so my silence here is probably going to be prolonged, but for a very different reason. I actually have two books to finish, one the publisher is waiting for, and I’m ~75% through, and the one I’m writing now, like a river flowing out of me, and I want to spend all my non-working time on these two writing projects. My friend turned the dial so it’s oriented at a different angle, said a magic sentence, and flipped the switch. How can I ever thank her enough.

So many people have helped me, I’d need an index-length acknowledgement to include them all, and I hope you know who you are if you read this. For everyone who said a little something, sent a little smile, told me to write, gave me your attention, your love, allowed me to give those to you, I am forever in your debt.

the deal about essays

personalTurns out I have essentially been writing essays for years. There are formal essays, and then another style called personal or informal, and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. In his introduction to this anthology, Phillip Lopate writes:

“Personal essayists from Montaigne on have been fascinated with the changeableness and plasticity of the materials of human personality. Starting with self-description, they have realized they can never render all at once the entire complexity of a personality. So they have elected to follow an additive strategy, offering incomplete shards, one mask or persona after another: the eager, skeptical, amiable, tender, curmudgeonly, antic, somber. If ‘we must remove the mask,’ it is only to substitute another mask. The hope is that in the end, when an essayist’s lifework has been accumulated, all these personae will add up to a genuine unmasking.”

The personal essayist interrogates herself, and develops her own unique voice. She may explore the littleness of life, and she may take on issues that loom large, but always she investigates them through her own lens. The big quote, above, led me to write in the margin: I have written blog posts on this exact topic!

Of course an essay is more complete, and expanded, and frequently wanders and rambles (so he says). My challenge, then, is to take what I’ve been doing and blow it up, spread it out. My task is to become comfortable with the precise way my mind works because that’s the voice of the essayist. And when I think about essays I love, it is always about the way his or her mind works, the places it twists, the turns it takes that I wouldn’t have thought to take, the reflections on itself, the phrasing. It may even be less about the specific content than it is about those twists and reflections.

David Sedaris writes essays, and he certainly has a unique mind and voice — and that’s why you read him! He reveals, he’s personal, but you don’t read to learn personal details about him, they’re not quite incidental but they’re not the point. They are material for his mind and voice to explore. Anne Lamott is an essayist. There are Charles D’Ambrosio, of course, Oliver Sacks, and Leslie Jamison, whose essay collection, The Empathy Exams, was a best-seller in April of last year; the writers on The Rumpus are essayists; and columns in newspapers, like the “Modern Love” column in the NYTimes, essays, all.

So I am practicing expanding, and I’m working with figuring out how to get my own mind on paper (the censor is loud). Yesterday I spent three hours at a coffee shop, just writing my own stuff. It was such a pleasure, the most fun writing I’ve ever done. I finished a very rough draft, esssentially just getting some of the bones down. My next draft will need me to dig deeper and be more there as the writer, instead of being there as the subject. That’s the necessary distance of the personal essayist.

I may need to do three or four drafts of my first essay, but when I’m satisfied enough with it, I’ll post it here. It just occurs to me that this feels exactly like the post I wrote about loving yoga all along but never doing it because I ‘should’ be doing other kinds of exercise. I’ve been writing like this for more than ten years, maybe fifteen. But I’ve pushed myself to do other forms — not because anyone said I ‘should’ but because I dismissed this form and thought all the value was in the longer form of a novel. Of course I adore novels and memoirs, but I also adore essays. It’s funny how you can know something all along and it still takes you a long time to know it.

It’s a spectacularly gorgeous day here today, full-on sun and 70 degrees. If it’s not like this where you are, I’ll enjoy this for you. xx

direction

I’ve been so quiet on this blog for such a long time — since late June, really. I’ve felt like I don’t have anything to say that I haven’t already said a dozen times. I’ve become tired of talking about my Big Stories and don’t need to talk about them, except as a bit of parsley on the plate . . . but only if a plate needs that. The themes I circle through again and again — the importance of complexity and the role of the word and in being truthful, the process and shape of change, gratitude for the very small things — I have nothing new to say about them, except to say them again with daily minor differences.

But I need to write regularly. I need to do that. I write to make sense of things, to find their form and structure, to figure out what I think and sometimes what I feel. And there are big questions that seem to be my big questions to think about through life:

  • Complexity, the way truth can’t really be nailed down, and the impossibility of categories to capture anything real or recognizable. I’ve found my kindred spirit in Charles D’Ambrosio, and am avidly reading his essays in Loitering: New and Collected Essays.
  • The selves/passions/mysteries that we contain without knowing it. And we may never know they exist.
  • The way a moment can explode and careen and take on its own life and you have no idea how it happened or how to stop it, and then everything is different.
  • What is it exactly about a suicide in the immediate family that has the kind of impact it has? What is that? I cannot figure it out.

I’m studying how to write personal essays, reading craft books (like To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction) and collections of essays, studying the form and thinking about topics. The thing I love about the personal essay — and my favorites always include the writer in some way — is that they go far beyond diary writing, bloggy entries, out into something larger, even as they anchor themselves in some way to the writer.

Writing fiction has always been utterly mysterious to me; for all these years, my imagined form was the memoir, where the plot and characters were already provided. When I found myself weary of my own story, the memoir project felt like something I just had no interest in. And yet there are things of it that interest me, stories of it that can be expanded out into greater depth. A very dear friend told me yesterday that she thinks I am unafraid of telling the truth, and she’s right — I just need to find my way to the deeper truth of things rather than the “then this happened oh yes it did” truth of them.

I’m not yet sure what this means for my blog. I’m sure I’ll still use it as a diary kind of thing, to share things like books and movies and food, to share happy and hard experiences. How (or if) I will use this space as I start trying to learn how to write long essays, I’m not yet sure.

me and Kleenex and hot tea, in the wee hours of 3am
me and Kleenex and hot tea, in the wee black and white hours of 3am

The holidays seem strange to me, just as I expected they would. Being in steamy hot SEAsia until December 7, and then getting a bad cold when I got home, makes it hard to connect to Christmas trees and presents and O Holy Night. I’m having a Christmas party at my house next Tuesday, maybe 20 people, so (a) my cold needs to get itself over and done with asap, and (b) I hope that gets me quickly into the spirit of things.

Today is Friday? Is that right? I don’t mind the disorientation when I come home from a trip, but having that with a cold is really not fun at all. But it is a particular kind of head that is conducive to quiet thinking and writing by hand, and I seem to get somewhere different when I do that than when I bang around on my keyboard. My goal is to get well, enjoy the holidays, love my people, celebrate, and think closely about what I want to make happen next year. This year has been so incredible, I’ll be starting 2015 in a way I could never have dreamed, at the beginning of 2014. I want to not just hope good things happen, but instead I want to plan for them and do them. I hope that’s not the NyQuil talking. 😉