Wednesday, June 14, 2006

One book leads to another book leads to...?

Thanks to you all for your birthday wishes (I failed to mention them in my last posting)! I think you all put together some seriously good energy on my behalf, because in spite of moving madness, I did manage to have a wonderful birthday. TEG found the time (somehow!) to buy me my favorite ice cream cake (it’s a bit of a tradition for us). Madam was her sunshiny, squeal-y self all day, and being in our apartment without furniture is a bit like summer camp. It feels like time out of time. Once our belongings arrive, all of the work that they entail comes too...unpacking, discarding, rearranging. So I am enjoying this time to explore the city and play.

Writing the last post exorcised all of my negative fearful feelings about the city, and after I re-read it, I made a decision. I vowed to view Minneapolis through the frame of "I like it." I would train myself to focus on whatever positive I could find, and stop comparing it to Chicago, or to California. It’s a lesson I need to learn over and accept what is right in front of me without endless comparisons.

I’ve found a lot to like, but nothing more so than the fabulous public library. I never managed to get a library card while living in California, so this feels like absolute abundance. To think of a book, to remember a title I’ve been curious about, and then to either get it off the shelves or request it online? Bliss!

It’s been a feast to this book-starved soul. Currently, I am the happy borrower of 9 titles, with several more on hold. Sure, one could say it’s, well, rather optimistic to think that a mother of an 11 month old Madam could find the time to do all of that reading. But I’m beginning to think that motherhood is actually the necessity of invention. I am bound and determined to do it.

Thanks to Cate’s enthusiastic recommendation, I’ve picked up The Right to Write by Julia Cameron again. It’s clearly a case of "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear." I leafed through it once before, but all I remember from the experience is feeling vaguely defensive. I suppose I never thought I really had the right to write after all, and I resented her for making it seem possible. I returned it to the library (Chicago, that time) and chalked it up to a bad book...after all, I had used and loved the Artist’s Way.

This time I’ve been nodding yes, yes and making enthusiastic notes in my journal (the only one I brought with’s getting quite a workout these days!). One of the exercises she wrote about involved writing to your inner writer and trying to see what she/he needs. I’ve done similar exercises before, with varying results, but something about her presentation captured my imagination, so I waited until nap time and went to work.

What I heard back surprised me.

My inner writer unleashed a hurt diatribe about not valuing the kind of writing I do naturally...the kind of writing I do here...self-therapy, I suppose you could call it. She complained about my endless focus on "the novel" and how I need to get back to it; it’s my real work, etc. And basically she said, over and over again, that she would not budge on the novel until I respected the kind of writing I LIKE to do, the kind of writing that comes naturally to me.

And she is right. I have always exalted the true creative person--the one who seems to create out of pure imagination--like, say, Laini or Alexandra. I have always seen autobiographical writing, especially thinly disguised as a novel, as somehow cheating. It’s not "real" unless it is far, far removed from your own life.

I cannot seem to create this way. When I write, I want to explore the way my mind ranges from mood to memory. I want to understand myself in the hopes that it will give me some insight into human psychology and the larger self. And so, inevitably, I end up writing personal essays, or journaling, or writing a novel that draws heavily on autobiographical elements. And that last one haunts me, in part, because I want to invent new things for her, a new history, but she stubbornly resists, and stubbornly remains committed to the past I’ve already laid out, which is almost completely my past.

This illuminating exchange wore down my last bit of reserve, and I made myself a promise. For the next year, I will allow myself to write the way that feels natural, and try to craft my work without denigrating my instincts.

Which lead me to the second book, Writing as a way of healing. I’ve seen this book before...the Dean I worked for at Cool but Aimless Job had a copy of it in his office, which surprised me at the time because he was a very clinical scientist. I remember being turned off by the title, looking so slight there amidst the solemn leather bound textbooks and medical journals. It looked almost pleading, as though asking to be returned to its natural habitat. I scoffed a little at it, telling myself that I was interested in being a Real Writer, not someone who writes for mere therapy and self-improvement.

Yeah, you can see how well that worked out.

My time at the library can resemble that old show "supermarket sweep" as I careen from shelf to shelf, trying to gather as many books as possible before Madam remembers that she dislikes the library. So in a bit of a panic (she was already doing her low pitched introductory whine), I pulled the book off the shelf and added it to my pile.

It’s exactly what I need to read right now. She writes about honoring the desire to write, about creating a process in layers, and not getting ahead of it (such a problem for me, as I believe I should know how the final polished shape should look before I finish the first draft). She writes about not believing you can write, and writing anyway.

So, yes, you write to heal. But you also write to create a self, to understand your mind, and to teach yourself what you most need to know.

This is what I have decided to do for myself this year. I have decided to take myself seriously as a utilize whatever resources I have at my disposal, to use whatever time I can finagle between naps and TEG’s involvement, to write the way I seem to need to, right now, and trust that I can learn by doing what I need to do.

Happy birthday.



Blogger deirdre said...

Yes, yes, yes! I'm so happy you're back and writing and, especially, Honoring your writing. You are a talent.

11:46 PM, June 14, 2006  
Anonymous Emmie (Better Make It A Double) said...

I've been lurking for a couple of months now (and found out about Sunday Scribblings through you, though I haven't had the courage to post yet), and here you up and move to my town! I love our new library too, and have taken my 14-month-old twins there twice already on the light rail. Supermarket Sweep is right. Did you know that the big puppet theater room off the main section of the children's library is officially available to play in if there's no other program going on? Also, have you checked out our esteemed literary center yet? It's quite a resource - classes, readings, book groups, a great coffeeshop, you name it. Check it out here: It's in the Open Book Center on Washington Avenue (on the edge of downtown near the dome) I'm taking a class in creative nonfiction for mothers there right now and absolutely loving it. Welcome to Flour City, and feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions. I love your writing.

10:31 AM, June 15, 2006  
Blogger M said...

Wow, what statement. You go girl!! I totally agree on feeling like writing autobiographically is a cop out- I feel exactly the same way! All my characters sound so familiar, and I am what I know, so that's what I write right now. I love Julia Cameron and going to the library is one of my favorite things too!!
Good luck, we are all here to support you in your new path!

11:18 AM, June 15, 2006  
Blogger Susannah said...

god, i relate to so much in this post, particularly the idea that to write about ourselves and call it 'fiction' is cheating somehow... funny, as that is pretty much what i am doing. Hmmm. i already love Cameron's books, but i think i may have to pick up the healing one you mention. i'm loving this new commitment to your writing life - defintely sounds like the way forward. can't want to see what you come up with (you will share some here won't you ? ;-)

11:54 AM, June 15, 2006  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

So glad to hear you have decided to honor yourself enough to take your creative work seriously. This is such a breakthrough, and I hope it continues to develop!

4:39 PM, June 15, 2006  
Blogger Alexandra G said...

I am very much in this same process so you are not alone. We write for many reasons, and each one is so important all on its own isn't it? I facilitate a women's group every week for women struggling with severe abuse/depression issues and I use journaling as the medium and I'm always so moved by their exploration, healing, and discovery process just by inviting writing into their life, as if there are parts of ourselves that we can only access through writing alone. Your blog is one of my favorites and I also want to wish you a happy landing in your new home and state AND a very happy birthday! (p.s. can you email me your mailing address to send you a teeny surprise? and p.s.s. thank you for the lovely compliment in your post. I feel the same about you!)

5:17 PM, June 15, 2006  
Blogger Laini said...

First, I am deeply honored that you mention me as a creative person. Second, I am so GLAD you're having such an honest dialogue with your inner writer! I hope it opens doors in your mind and lets you flow with the kind of writing you LIKE to do. That is such an important thing to be in touch with -- it was something I had to deal with with art, too, and coming to terms with the fact that my natural strengths and joys aren't necessarily what I thought or expected them to be when I embarked upon the journey of learning to draw. I don't know why it's hard to listen to ourselves and intuitively know what we love to do, but we have to pay extra attention, force ourselves to recognize it and go with it. Even on kind of a "molecular" level with writing I've tried to learn to pay attention: I might be in the midst of a writing project I love, but find myself bogged down by some scene I think needs to be written, but getting bored by it, and I try to listen to that. If it bores ME, it'll surely bore anyone who reads it too. So then I ask, is this scene REALLY necessary? What could happen instead that would be fun and inspiring to write? Finding where your spark is, again and again -- finding new sparks, always paying attention to your inner writer, SO important. And since I so love reading your explorations of your fascinating childhood and upbringing and all that's happened since, it seems like really fertile ground -- write, woman, write! (and that library sounds fantastic!.)

1:04 PM, June 16, 2006  

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