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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

It’s Personal

Over the next few months, the glorious Liana Silva (@lianamsilva) and I are writing to each other about personal essays. We’ll pivot from her site to mine. It is a conversation in letter form. We hope you’ll read along with us. Here’s my response to her inaugural post.

Dear Liana,

I first read your post as I was making dinner, after I had picked up the Legos strewn across the floor for the third time, after I found an Olivia book tucked in a pile of research in my office, and after I tripped over a cat and then a toddler. Both kids were home from preschool and school, and I’d already warned them both about squabbling over toys and assigned 3.5 time outs. This day, like many others, is one, in which writing feels like it is only occasionally in my grasp. I’m a mother who writes, a writer who mothers.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how in the world I ended up as a writer. This appears a strange twist of fate. As my beloved Chris enjoys pointing out, I am an intensely private introvert and yet I write for audiences of strangers (and friends) about topics so personal to me: grief, motherhood, quitting, and my body.

The question is not how did I come to write essays. I think and dream in essays, but rather how did I ever come to write personal essays? I’m the person who actively avoids conversations on the topics that I write about. I smile and nod and look for an exit. I offer up a shallow example of my own or speak in monosyllables. I try to redirect attention back to the speaker away from me. I don’t talk openly. I don’t share.

How in the hell did I come to write personal essays at all? I lay bare my experiences of the world. I dwell in my heartbreaks. I try to find joy. I write openly. Or do I? (more…)

Writing and Waiting: Essays I Love

This week and last, I’ve been caught up in writing. Deadlines come and go. I started articles, essays, and posts, and I diligently send them off. What generally happens when I zero in on writing assignments is that I write and write and write and revise and revise and rewrite. I focus only on what must get done to finish whatever piece I’m writing. I stop reading. I tell myself that I’m too busy to linger on the essays that I want to read and then I feel guilty when I do take the time to read the current issue of Creative Nonfiction or pick up one of the many essay collections stacked in my office within easy reach.

Yet, I must read to become a better writer, so I’ve tried to give myself a little time each day to read, usually before I rush to pick up children from preschool and afterschool.

Here are the essays that have stuck with me in these last two weeks:

  1. Shirley Jackson, “Memory and Delusion,” The New Yorker

This essay is from the new collection of Jackson’s short stories and essays, Let Me Tell You, which I purchased as soon as I read this essay. My familiarity with Jackson’s writing was limited to a memory of how terrifying it was to read “The Lottery” in high school. Yet, her story has stuck with me for years and years since I first read it. In “Memory and Delusion,” Jackson wrote about being a writer who is also a mother. She carved out time at the typewriter after household chores were done and her family was fed. Like her, I’m a writer who writes from home. Her essay depicted the struggle to find time and space to write, the way in which home presses upon us with all that must be done.

Writers, she explained to us, are always writing. We don’t just write when we put pen to page (or now type away on keyboards). Writing is something we do all day long, especially when we fold laundry, wash dishes or prepare meals. She provided encouragement too, but here are the lines that I keep scribbling on post-it notes and placing around my office: “All you have to do—and watch this carefully, please—is keep writing. As long as you write it away regularly, nothing can really hurt you.”

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Essays I Love

When I have to describe the kind of writer that I am, I most often say I’m an essayist. Before I claimed the mantle of essayist, I read other writer’s bios and lingered over those who proclaimed to be essayists. What a bold claim. What a sense of knowing what you do and who you are. I envied that bold certainty. It took me quite awhile to admit that I was a writer, but less time to realize that essays were what I wanted to write. In Loitering, Charles D’Ambrosio notes that “engine of the essay” is “doubt and the unknown.” He curates a vision of the essay as an attempt to capture ordinary life in motion with all its entanglements and contradictions.

As soon as I read D’Ambrosio’s discussion of the essay, I knew I was hooked. Certainty makes me a bit queasy, but doubt is my constant companion. It never leaves me. It makes me ask hard (and harder) questions. Doubt fuels my curiosity (and wonder) of the world. It motivates me.

The essay is my jam.

Unsurprisingly, I have a deep and abiding love of essays. I work my way through collection after collection. I read them online. I print them and mark them up. I consume them: personal, critical, and the lovely hybrids of the two. I’ve meant to start a weekly feature featuring essays that I love. These could be essays that I’ve read months, or even years, ago, essays I’ve read during the week, or the essays that I return to because they made me into the writer that I am now.

This is the inaugural post of an ongoing series, and I’m starting with two essays I read this week that I can’t quit thinking about.

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Goodbye to All That

I slipped into a funk about my writing, especially about writing a book that no longer had a home, and about my life more generally. I decided that I hated writing, even as I continued to write columns, personal essays, pitches, and blog posts. I wrote and wrote and wrote. So maybe I didn’t hate writing; I just hated this manuscript and way it made me feel like an academic failure. I couldn’t get a tenure-track job, and I couldn’t finish a project I had started almost three years ago. What was wrong with me? I kept the cancelled contract in my desk as a reminder of this particular failure, but the mere thought of it left me teary-eyed. I decided to ignore both the manuscript and the returned advance.

I thought I was over beating myself up about my exit from academia. Apparently I wasn’t.

Read more.

TinyLetter

I started a TinyLetter in June. I’ve written two letters so far. I imagined that I might write a letter weekly, but my imaginings don’t often sit well with the reality of day-to-day life. Part of my slowness to write these letters is to figure out how they are different or similar from my other writing. I’m not sure I have a good sense of whether TinyLetters are a particular genre or not, so I’m treating them as tiny personal essays about two topics that dominate my thinking (and writing), bodies and books.

I’m writing to you, dear readers, because I want to write more and think more about bodies and books. Also, I would love for you to write back. Let’s have a conversation. Some of you have already written to me. Thank you.

For those of who haven’t subscribed, here are excerpts from my first two letters. I hope you’ll let me write to you too.

My first letter is on writing, motherhood, and Rebecca Solnit’s Faraway and Nearby:

When I first started reading The Faraway Nearby, I adored it. I read the book while I was still rocking my youngest to sleep for two naps a day. While he snuggled close, I followed along as Solnit pondered apricots, fairy tales, leprosy, Che, Frankenstein, ice, memories, empathy, and family. My eyes strained in dimly lit nursery. My Kindle glowed illuminating his chubby face and balled fists. I was drawn to Solnit because of her essay that spurred discussions of mansplaining. I hoped to mimic the lovely intermingling of personal essay and researched explanations. The baby nursed; I read. The close proximity of motherhood and writer’s aspirations felt meaningful. I could only read about writing while he slept. I could only write while my oldest was at preschool. I was pulled into two different directions, motherhood and writing. The tension felt distinct and inescapable.  (more…)