tasting life twice


Went to a memoir workshop last night at my new favorite bookstore, taught by Gotham Writers' Workshop instructor Cullen Thomas. I have been lagging in all matters of writing lately, had a moment last week when it all seemed rather pointless and stupid. But I showed up late anyway, grabbed a seat near the back row that somehow ended up directly in Cullen's sight lines.

We did a short character exercise and some shared their meager sentences with the mostly female, white, and slightly older crowd. He went through the basics of plot, character, setting, dialogue, and theme, did a plug for his memoir and for Gotham.

Then he said, quite simply, that we all have a story to tell. (I have always believed this, perhaps I needed someone to say it out.) That we needn't come to the workshop and the page expecting to publish, but perhaps to have a cathartic experience that helps us understand a moment in our lives better.

He offered a quote by Anais Nin: We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection.

I suppose I should mention, perhaps I have already, that the novel I am writing was first a memoir. I might also add that I am now developing (whatever that means, I haven't touched it in weeks) a collection of memoir essays loosely about identity, language, loss, and alienation. They are the little bits and pieces of thoughts floating in my head on the subway, that I jot into my notebook.

I find that I am always writing, whether on purpose or by chance, yet I am also somewhat obsessed with getting published. Ever since, as a child to whom such things came easy, I published a poem at 14, I assumed it was a simple matter. Come to find, as an adult, it is nothing of the sort. It is challenging and requires more determination than I sometimes think I have.

It is also the biggest emotional-mind-fuck ever conceived.

In truth, the novelization of the memoir was intended to create a safe psychological distance for myself. But, the deeper I get into the work, that distance slowly peels away, layer by layer. The writing also creates a type of "silence" that is only broken through the act of sharing those words.

I imagine, then, that I am really learning to speak, to find my voice through writing.

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  1. You, you are bold oo. Because it takes much more guts to be completely honest with oneself than many people think. You seem to exemplify the saying: "You don't have to be the loudest or the strongest to be the bravest."

    Good job, sha.

  2. I agree with Nanasei, I think you are being very honest, which is brave, on its own.

    I also "struggle" with writing. I have gone through many phases, and I think it does come, in the end, by itself.

    Everybody starts with a memoir, and I am pretty sure, what you really want to write will finally find its way out.

    But I also believe that there is a certain time when your voice comes into its own. I believe that it takes maturity and a certain finess to add those details that nobody but YOU could have. To see those things that nobody but YOU could see. Its when that "third eye" (you know, the one that you have when only YOU see things a certain way cos of your own unique experience) stops being a burden to you and you now welcome it, cos it becomes an instrument. An instrument for writing.

    I used to dread the way I see things. The way I could always see other things beneath almost mundane circumstances around me. I used to wonder, "am I the only one putting all these details together? Can't people see the absurdity in this?" Of course they could not, cos they no not know how I layer my own shit, depending on my own experience in life.

    I think it is fascinating(hope I am making sense), when your mind stops being a burden. Now, anytime I think of stuff that before would have made me go "there you go again, your mind always working on over drive", instead, I think "damn, if I could only describe this down. If only I could write down words that could put down all these details".

    Anyway, before I ramble on, I think you should be kinder to yourself. I am also always on an emotional roller coaster about the whole shit. However, it does not bother me anymore, its just me being me. I know it will be useful for something, someday.

    I think I am also finding my distinct voice, so it's been quite a journey, but it will end well...as far as we learn to be confident and trust ourselves...you will only get better. Thats for sure.

    Thanks for being honest.

    P.S: We could also just make this easy on ourselves, and stop being so "artsy". Gosh! I see so many people just happily writing away. They don't have all this depressive dark bullshit...hehehehehehehe...

  3. Thank you @nanasei@waffarian. I do not really think myself brave. If I were to share my actual creative writing on here, as opposed to a handful of disparate thoughts, then perhaps. (I even hesitated to write the word "fuck," that I use more often in my speech than might be apparent on this blog.) I think writing is a practice in courage, though...hope that I am bolder in life and writing than I used to be. I will blog more on this. Must share an incredible book I'm reading called Writing With Power.

  4. Lady,
    Thanks so much for sharing. My two cents: just write what you are supposed to write, and in that process, as you say, find your voice. And if it turns out to be memoir, fine. If it turns out to be purely fictional, cool. If you want to leave us guessing, then just wink wink and publish. If it's anything like your crisp yet colorful writing here, we'll love it either way.

    That said, I understand where you are coming from. Especially when you have to write about death or loved ones who've since passed on or loved ones who can pick the book off the shelf and read it and call you and cuss you out, it's suuuper tough. So your "writing as an act of courage" insight: spot on.

    Would love to hear more about this book. I am currently reading/practicing out of "An Old Friend From Far Away." Excellent for memoir, but just good for the writing practice period.

    Thanks for sharing.


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