I mentioned previously that I’ve been reading Charlie Jane Anders’ craft book Never Say You Can’t Survive that dropped recently. I’m finding her insight refreshingly accessible and compassionate. She believes in her characters, and she especially believes in their feelings and how those feelings drive their decisions and move the plot forward.
My expertise is mostly in memoir and poetry, but I like to read about how all kinds of authors make a book happen, whether they’re writing about a mother with unrecognized mental illness (hello!), a murder mystery set in Paris during the Belle Epoch, or mushroom-shaped aliens from the planet Gorb who just want to be friends with humans–or so it seems.
When I read the quote cited above, I underlined it with my black pen, hard, and drew a big star next to it. Big stars mean business. Big stars make it easy to find what matters to me in a book long after I’ve read it.
When I drew that star, and every time I reread the quote, my heart turns icy. For me, this is terrifying. I can’t bear the idea that I would become my mother, yet I can bear it, otherwise I wouldn’t draw a star next to Gornick’s sentence.
I feel as if I’m re-learning how to write. Or maybe finally learning how to write. Or maybe that’s what it is to be a writer–to cycle through the re-learning how to do this art for every project you have, every major life change, every significant emotional shift or growth or loss you experience.
When I began writing my memoir Terrible Daughter, about how I became estranged from my parents, I was married, had two dogs, lived in the heart of Boston, and spent most of the winter at a small apartment in Florida. In the years since then, I got divorced, my dog died, my ex kept the other dog–the loss of which I still feel keenly–had to leave my home in Boston, sold the Florida place, and moved to Maryland. And I earned an MFA.
I don’t even know where to start with last night. I’m in Virginia, a fellow at an artists residency, where sometimes we share what we’re working on. Visual artists have open studios, composers play either live or recorded original music, and writers have readings. Last night, I read from my memoir-in-progress, Terrible Daughter, sharing the stage with another writer.
It went really well! I truly enjoy reading my work for an audience. It was gratifying to hear that people enjoyed it. If you’re a writer and the open-mic thing scares you, take the leap and try it anyway. It’s okay to be scared. This is the only way writers can get immediate feedback and engagement with their craft. And the writing doesn’t have to be perfect or even polished to be a good read.
I have arrived at my writing residency and all is well. When I was here before, I had a separate room and writing studio, which is the case for most fellows. This time I’m in a small apartment so I’ll work and sleep in the same place. It’s quite spacious and I have a mini-fridge. Score!
Listen, I don’t know what I’m doing. I just want to say that up front. I know what I’m doing, as in I know how to write. But I’m having a tricky time figuring out my psychology right now. I did not thrive under quarantine, as I mentioned before. Creatively it was a really tough challenge.