claim our own complicated truths

graffiti - calligraphy outline of a candleGood morning good morning — it’s a tired morning over here. The puppy, who has been sick, is curled up in the middle of three pillows, sighing. I’ve got Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “First Fig” churning and dancing through me this morning: My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— / It gives a lovely light. Today I am feeling these lines especially poignantly.

I would like to share with you everything that is happening around these parts, this side of the street, around Jen & writing ourselves whole both, but there aren’t words for all of it. At least not words I’ve found yet. I’m in a place of invention just now, though, so maybe new words can arrive, alliterate and at the ready.

There was something I wanted to tell you this morning, but the red lentil hummus is calling to me, wanting me to make sure it doesn’t burn, and there’s writing to offer feedback to, and a candle flame to watch dancing. In total this week I have four workshops and one performance — plus a day job and a personal life. That’s my burning at both ends. I keep breathing. I hug the puppy, do some situps, some pushups, I listen to what my body wants to eat, and try to feed it that. I can’t always manage to meet the exact craving, but I’m coming closer most days. How about that?

(Plus, of course, it’s the bleeding time, which means that everything is especially poignant just now. Hallmark ad over on evite? We are go for tears, thank you very much.)

There’s writing I want to share with you from last night’s Write Whole session, but it’s some difficult writing about my mother, who I know reads this blog sometimes (though not often), and so I am feeling worried about how she will meet the words. I’ll post this write eventually, maybe even soon, but for now I want to write about the work that can be involved in writing and sharing our true story. We’ve been beginning to talk about this question/struggle in the Dive Deep workshop — how do we claim what’s true for us and also honor those we love or care about who we fear will be hurt by our words (or, too, sometimes, without incurring a lawsuit)? This is about learning to trust our writing voices, and gut instincts, and so this is important.

As much as possible, I write my own truth in my journals and in first drafts, if nowhere else. It is true, however, that there have been stretches when even there I don’t claim my own honesty — when I am afraid that just letting the truth out anywhere outside my body, allowing any of my cells to lay claim to it, will be too apocalyptic. Those are not generally good times for me, but they happen, and what I have learned is that I just have to go through the difficult and necessary work of rewriting myself back toward my gut instincts, my complicated truths, my own stories, the ones that live outside the mouths of other people, that live behind the damp teeth of all my own inside mouths.

But mostly — mostly — notebook-writing and first drafts (and even workshop writes) are for the messy and honest story-telling, a place where I train myself to follow the thread of whatever I’m writing, even into places that other people might have trouble with (and for folks with even a shred of codependency, this can be a struggle. I myself have slightly more than a thread — more like one of those thick steamboat ropes-worth — and so this takes work and practice). When I let myself honor my true stories, then I learn more about the writing, I can go deeper, I can unearth and shove onto the page more difficult, complicated, layered tellings. This, in my experience, makes for better writing. I have, often often often, stopped my pen mid-sentence, afraid of what my stepfather, partner, father, mother, sister, friend would think or have to say about my side of the story, my understanding, my experience. I would argue with them in my head, struggle, go get more coffee, pick up the pen again. I began to just let myself write whatever it was I thought they might say to me — he would say that I was selfish and a tease, but that’s not what happened, and here’s why. Sometimes, letting those other arguments down onto the page just led me down deeper into the work.

In her book Writing Alone and With Others, Pat Schneider writes:

As a young writer I talked to author Elizabeth O’Connor about my
work. There were things about which I could not write. I would “hurt”
my mother. My husband “might not like it.” She replied gently, “It sounds to me like there are a lot of absentee landlords of your soul.”

This is crucial: If you are to write, you must move out of “rented
rooms” in your mind, rooms that you have allowed to belong to someone
else. It will (usually) not happen overnight. But you can begin at any time
to be free. You must own yourself, have no “absentee landlords.”
This does not mean you run roughshod over other people’s feelings or
other people’s privacy. There are ways to protect others and still be free[…]. Remember that your first draft—which is absolutely essential—
is private. You can write anything that comes and “fix it” later.

Once you have the free flow of a full first draft on the page, you can do
the necessary editing to protect others, to protect yourself. But if you
worry about other people as you write a first draft, you will not be able to
free your unconscious mind to give up its treasures. It will be bound by
the great dogs of your fear, by “ought” and “should” and the internalized
voices of those whose lives intersect your own.

For first-draft writing, claim everything as your own. (pp. 11-12)

This is the only prompt I have for today: Just for today, let yourself write your own true story, no matter what anyone else might think about it. Take 10 minutes. What truth feels difficult today? Can you let it breathe between your fingers and the pen, let it rest on the page in all it’s complexity?

Thanks for that, and for this. Thanks for your being right where you are. Thanks for your words.

As a young writer I talked to author Elizabeth O’Connor about my

work. There were things about which I could not write. I would “hurt”

my mother. My husband “might not like it.” She replied gently, “It sounds

to me like there are a lot of absentee landlords of your soul.”

This is crucial: If you are to write, you must move out of “rented

rooms” in your mind, rooms that you have allowed to belong to someone

else. It will (usually) not happen overnight. But you can begin at any time

to be free. You must own yourself, have no “absentee landlords.”

This does not mean you run roughshod over other people’s feelings or

other people’s privacy. There are ways to protect others and still be free

(see chapter 9). Remember that your first draft—which is absolutely essential—

is private. You can write anything that comes and “fix it” later.

Once you have the free flow of a full first draft on the page, you can do

the necessary editing to protect others, to protect yourself. But if you

worry about other people as you write a first draft, you will not be able to

free your unconscious mind to give up its treasures. It will be bound by

the great dogs of your fear, by “ought” and “should” and the internalized

voices of those whose lives intersect your own.

For first-draft writing, claim everything as your own.