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.


{ kiacharon } | May 4, 2010 at 10:23 PM said...

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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