Introductions and Perfectionism

coastersHave you ever had that feeling of oh crap, why did I say that? I attended a Corporeal Writing workshop last weekend where we had to introduce ourselves then say what we always wanted to write and what we are experts in.

After the facilitators introduced themselves, the classmember next to me started and before I could figure out what I was going to say, it was my turn.

“Hi all, I’m Deb. I’ve always wanted to write a song.”

What the? Really? Where the hell did that come from? I was there to get some clarity in writing my beast of a memoir. Then I got wrapped around axle on the word “expert.”

“I don’t really think I’m an expert in anything, I’m kind of a jack of all trades. I can’t identify with being an expert.”

As I listened to the rest of my classmates talk about writing from their place of pain, I felt small.

Okay, let’s unpack that.

Truth be told, some of my earliest writing was listening to songs a million times and writing down the lyrics. This was back in the day before they put lyrics on album liners, and way back before you could search for them on the internet. I had a whole notebook of Jim Croce, John Denver, and Elvis Presley lyrics. Music speaks to me so maybe I can relate to writing song lyrics. But is it the thing I most want to write? No, I want to finish this damn memoir.

On to the second thing that stumped me.

I could not in any way identify with the word expert. I once considered changing careers to teach, but didn’t make the leap because I couldn’t imagine standing in front of a class not knowing everything. That perfectionism seems ludicrious looking back on it now. I’m a recovering perfectionist but find myself occasionally relapsing into old habits like a comfortable pair of slippers.

The next time I’m asked to introduce myself, telling the one thing I want to write and what I’m an expert in, I’ll say: “Hi, I’m Deb. I’d really like to finish my memoir of having a mentally ill mother so others in similar situations know they’re not alone…and I can parallel park my car like a boss.”

Writing the Hard Stuff

I wrote fiction for NaNoWriMo 2019 because my memoir writing has been in a slump. During November, I noticed a February writing workshop in Portland, Oregon with two of my favorite memoirists, Pam Houston and Stephanie Land. Their topic? ”Getting the hard thing, the meaty thing, the painful thing, the unspeakable thing down on the page in a way that others can have emotional access to it.”

Interesting.

My mother passed 34 years ago succumbing to hypothermia on a frigid February North Dakota day. February also claimed the life of my step-brother who passed unexpectedly four years ago. The last straw was two years ago when my father passed on February 2nd. February has weighed heavy on my bones since my mother’s passing, but I once my father passed, the gloves were off. I dubbed the month FuckUary.

So when I saw the title of the workshop ”Getting It Onto the Page, Getting It Out In The World,” I didn’t hesitate. I signed up and made my travel plans.

I’m under no illusion that the skies will open and writing nirvana will commence, but I’m open to being a sponge. This weekend, I’m reclaiming February from the clutches of grief.

Regardless of the outcome, that will be a win in my book.

NaNoWriMo Eve or NaNoWeen

I started this blog on November 3rd, 2018 which was Day 3 of National Novel Writing Month. Held every November for the past 20 years, NaNoWriMo started when founder Chris Baty challenged a few of his Bay Area friends to write 50,000 words in a month. It’s become an annual tradition with writers around the world.

According to Wikipedia, 600 NaNoWriMo novels have been published through traditional and smaller publishers, or through self publishing. One of the most notable was Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen.

I had no idea if I could actually write that many words in a month, but I had been wanting to write the memoir I wanted to read when I came out at 56. As a NaNo Rebel (meaning I was not writing fiction), I wrote a hot mess of a rough draft weighing in a 51,473 words. I’ve worked on my rough draft over the course of the year with the help of teachers and workshop participants. It’s still a work in progress.

For this year’s NaNoWriMo, I’m writing fiction. I’ve only written one short fictional vignette as an online assignment 20 years ago, and I was surprised by the character that showed up and what they said. I’m hoping for the same experience because during this NaNo prep month, I have neither outline nor character development, and I’ve changed my story four times. I’ll totally be flying by the seat of my pants, or in NaNoSpeak, “pantsing.”

Good luck to all the Wrimos out there, and Write. On!

 

The Mystery of Metaphors

It’s been a minute since I’ve written a post. I’ve been struggling with my writing and haven’t felt much like admitting it. I’m a butt in the chair, get it done kind of person so editing my memoir feels like a root canal. It’s hard to be motivated when writing feels like a chore.

This month, to shake things loose, I’m taking a memoir class with former Michigan State professor Lev Raphael. He assigned three memoir openings for our first assignment, we were to comment on them and reflect on our own.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch immediately caught my attention and I wanted to read more. I checked out the audiobook from the library and listened as Fitch wove her sad tale of mother drama. Her use of metaphor to bring home a point was masterful, and brought clearly into focus my woeful use of them. I’m still learning to write in the show, don’t tell manner and I struggle with metaphors. It’s much easier to cut to the chase and tell it like it is, but it’s not nearly as interesting to the reader.

This morning I read Marion Roach Smith’s essay on seeing metaphors all around us, then I took a mile-long hike around Trout Lake. I saw what she meant: use what we see to describe something in a different way so the reader can interpret their own meaning.

On my hike I saw an invasive plant species choking the shoreline and seemingly harmless tent caterpillars on tree limbs weaving webs of death, both illustrations of looking below the surface to see the struggle to survive. Even the hike that was easy just a year ago now left me breathless, a metaphor for my editing journey.

In hiking as in writing, the lessons are in the journey. I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other and my butt in the seat, and let the destination take care of itself.

Trusting Your Journey

“Chicken Soup for the Soul: Running for Good” launched six weeks ago. It was a total fluke that I learned of the chance to submit my story so I was thrilled “Semper Fi, Sister” was included. The one hour Twitter virtual launch with the other authors and the publisher was like downing a triple espresso chased with Redbull.

Then came the let down.

I was now a published author, but I couldn’t coordinate a local launch to save my soul. I had filled out the publisher publicity paperwork, but no one seemed interested. Then I lost interest…and it didn’t seem like such a big deal after all.

But it is a big deal.

I’ve never been published. I work a challenging full-time job and write in stolen moments of time. It’s second nature for me to minimize my accomplishments. I compare myself to others then feel inadequate in their wake. But I have to remind myself that this is my journey alone.

Even if I never have another word published, the story of my magical Marathon journey will live on in the pages of Chicken Soup for the Soul. For that, I’m grateful.

What does the future hold? Who knows, but I’ll keep putting my butt in the chair, doing the work, and let the Universe handle the outcome.

Writing Myself Home

I attended the Rochester, MI Writer’s Conference at the end of April and A Rally of Writers in Lansing, MI last weekend. The Rochester conference focused on self-publishing and isn’t something I need to worry about yet. At this point, I just need to edit my shitty first draft to get it into a working manuscript.

A Rally of Writers, on the other hand, offered multiple sessions in 3 different time slots throughout the day. With so many topics to choose from, there was something for everyone so my choices were memoir and poetry.

Will “The Poet” Langford opened the session and among the many poems he performed was “Pamoja”,  which was even more moving since that evening the Michigan State Spartans were playing in the NCAA Final Four. Will The Poet’s ability to weave poetic phrases around metaphors was brillant, beautiful to listen to, and brought tears to my eyes more than once. He inspires me to seek out safe spaces to learn to perform spoken word and I looked forward to his afternoon poetry session.

The memoir session was taught by Mardi Jo Link, a journalist  and self described “accidental memoirist”. Link summarized her session by saying memoir needs truth, a timeline and logic the reader can follow, an invitation to experience a life the reader will never know, and a change in the narrator the reader can relate to. I’m working on incorporating all these elements in my memoir, but an off-handed comment about her sons generated a light bulb moment for me. We just never know where know where our next source of inspiration will come from.

In the “Writing Home” afternoon session, Will The Poet talked about his journey to Africa and the need for a home to carry with him in his travels. Church, communities, events, schools, neighborhoods, and work can all be places where we feel a sense of being at home, so he told us to write down five. Then using one of our choices, he brought us to the page to write our own sensory based poem. This is how I feel every time I fly to San Diego and see the Marine Corps Recruit Depot adjacent the airfield as we’re landing:

Lindberg Field

We touch down on the runway…home.
Outside I hear the silent cadence of Marine recruits marching.
I taste the bitterness of regret, but catch a whiff
of promise in the person I became when I marched with them.
With the opening of the hatch, I’m transported back to the present
until the next time I connect with my Marine sisters.

I’m headed to the Michigan Writing Workshop in Livonia on May 4th to round out my Spring writing conference circuit. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting like-minded writers, picking up gold nuggets to incorporate in my own writing, and communing with the writers over lunch. Now I’ve found a new home in the writing community.

Beating Back the Doubt Demons

Yesterday I became a Medium paid subscriber just to write a comment on a post where the writer was questioning her memoir writing plans. I wrote this comment as much for me as in response to what she had written “I’ve come to understand that when I’ve faced resistance, it was because I was still processing what had happened and wasn’t ready to put it on the page. Be patient with yourself and the process.”

It’s tough writing memoir because a lot of stuff jumps out that you had boxed up and put in the back storage closet of your mind. If we ourselves haven’t processed what’s happened to us and made peace with our past, what spills onto the page is unresolved emotions with no universal lessons for the reader. No wonder it takes some people so long to write to write a memoir.

I find myself questioning whether I can really do this. Only in the last couple of years have I disclosed to friends my mother’s mental illness. Now I’m writing about it for the world to see? It’s scary. But I’m writing my story for others out there who like me was feeling they’re the only ones to bear the pain of loss to mental illness. You are not alone.