Finding my voice
Finding my voice took some practice. For the longest time I wailed: I want to be a writer! Some very good friends said: So? Write. So? I did.
I once had a cra-cra writing mentor who—I learned later—had been using heroin while she taught us and which in retrospect makes so. Much. Sense. Anyway, that writing teacher was brilliant, which explains how she could teach while zonked out of her mind, or fighting the pangs of opiate hunger while she taught, which also in retrospect makes so. Much. Sense. Well, this brillint writer/teacher said: just write. Don’t’ try to make sense of it, your subconscious will connect the dots. Best writing advice I ever got and has served me well for years. Maybe it takes that reckless, dangerous behavior to get to the really good stuff, because after all, writing is a physical act. Writing is a physical act that brings the immaterial into physical being. No, it is not simply mental or imaginative. Writing. With a pen and paper, is really writing. If I were super famous, I would expect a landslide of email contradicting that point, but this is my process and one which incidentally, requires fine motor skills, and a good pen moving across reasonably fine paper to translate neural impulses that form into thought in one part of the brain while another part of the brain parses the sounds of Mozart on the Dot and finches in the hedge outside my window. Physical. Here. Now. Finding voice takes practice. If for nothing else, to discover belief. It takes familiarity with your own voice to learn to believe it, and to believe that others might believe it, too.
My Oldest Living Relative
My oldest living relative would by my aunt, my mother’s sister. She was one of four children, and she had nine babies with my uncle. As a reward for a life well lived, she is our matriarch. It is so strange to move inevitably closer to that category: the elder generation. The wise ones. The ones with institutional memory. Where do the stories go when the elders are gone? Does the narrative lose its bite? Do the family mythologies soften around the edges like a cherished photograph carried for years in a wallet? Perhaps family stories are like an image that over time fades until only the ghost of an persona remains.
Stories I Tell Myself
Relics in the Attic
There was an apartment in my grandmother’s house where an attic would have been. Up the staircase, there was a kitchenette, living room, bathroom with a clawfoot tub, closet, bedroom, and screened porch. It was only used as often as we visited, arriving in a station wagon loaded with kids, luggage, and the detritus of a small tribe. The apartment smelled of dust and mothballs. It seemed enchanted somehow, a miniature house. We had never seen an apartment and it held a special charm to me. The living room was by far the largest space, with an overstuffed sofa, braid rug, ancient radio cabinet that might have broadcast reports from a faraway war, a window that overlooked the backyard garden and Italian plum tree. When we descended after five hours on the road, children scattered like marbles on a linoleum floor. We touched every room at once: kitchen, pantry, back yard, cellar, upstairs apartment. We slept everywhere too, sofas made into bed with sheets and chenille spreads, screened porch and sleeping bags. Family legend maintains that my parents lived in the apartment their first year of marriage: playing house in an attic filled with relics of austerity.
Join me in July for a Virtual Journaling Camp! Journaling Campers will write for a minimum 15 minutes per day and in a month will have collected 31 pages of dazzling, original journaling prose. Camper registration fee is $99. For this you get:
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a guide to writing
A journal is not a diary. Well, it can be, but at its best, it is not. It is not about recording your deepest, darkest fears; the ones you don’t want anyone (especially that one you love) to read. It is not about judgment in the sense of “am I a good writer?” or “what does it say about me if I can’t put a few scribbles on a blasted sheet of paper?” kind of judgment. It is, in part, killing the editor in your head. You know, the one who says, “who cares what you think? You know you’re never going to write anything worth reading anyway, why bother?”
Kill the editor. The editor is only your insecurities with carte blanche and the power to stop you in your tracks before you uncap your pen. This is what you do: write. Write for fifteen minutes every day, no matter what. Even if you just write “I have nothing to say today.” Even if you just fill the page with gibberish. Write knowing that our journal is not about you. Do you get that?
Your journal isn’t about you, sweetheart.
No offense, and as important as you are, your journal is not an extension of you. Rather, it is like a Polaroid camera that you aim at everything around you and with which you snap a photo. This café. That conversation. That wide, beautiful coastline with clouds hovering over the water like cottoncandy and the smell of the surf pushing spring toward the desert on a mission from God.
It is a recording. It is a gift from the universe. How is it a gift? It is a gift because no one, not one soul who has ever been or will be, has the power of observation from your perspective, with your history, with your love of crossword puzzles or majong or Thai noodles with peanut sauce. You are a dazzling flower on the furthest branch of the tree of life and what you see around you is a devotion in the truest sense.
So write about the hamburger you ate for lunch. Write about the girl who brought it to you, whose shoes seemed unnaturally worn maybe because she’s working her way through art school and she deserves a little extra tip so maybe she can sleep in tomorrow and dream of a watercolor that will turn the world on its collective ear. Your journal is not about you. It is a gift to the world.
My ex-husband’s grandmother kept a journal every day of her married life. When Grandma died at 96, my father-in-law gave a journal of the year they were born to each of the grand kids. You could say that there was nothing extraordinary about it, but there was something precious in the grocery lists she made in her spidery hand. There was a door into the life of a woman who made a family so big that galaxies were created just to contain the love she had for them.
The laundry lists, the shoes to be taken to the repair man, the small concerns, were a door into a world we none of us had seen before. This was a picture of a woman not as we knew her, but a woman who when she wrote the journal, was younger than we who were reading it, and it was astonishing.
So write your journal, and don’t worry about being brilliant. Just write. Just do it, knowing whatever you say is sacred, in a context you can’t even imagine. Or not.
Hallelujah, amen, and wahoo!
to be continued. . .