Needless to say, I haven’t been blogging.
There are a lot of reasons for this, most of which are too navel-gazing to bother writing about here. I’ve been reading a lot of articles about how blogging, at least the way blogging was in its Julie and Julia heyday, is extinct. I’m not sure that I follow that all the way, but I would definitely put blogging on the endangered list.
Mostly, I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been writing. In a fortuitous turn of events, I’ve been tagged for one of those blog tour memes, so I’m going to use it as a way to explain. And I’m sending Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams, who tagged me, a great deal of gratitude (you can check out her answers to these questions, as well as a lovely tribute to Nadine Gordimer, here).
What are you working on?
At the moment, I’m working on a couple of poetic sequences that will probably soon start working their way towards manuscripts, but for the most part I’m focusing on two nonfiction* manuscripts. Both manuscripts focus on women and medicine – how little is known about the female body, how so many topics related to the female body are taboo, and how the combination of these things leads so many women to suffer from conditions that go untreated. Sometimes this is because women are afraid to seek treatment; sometimes, it’s because the medical community doesn’t understand a condition enough to treat it. It often seems as if women are, in a way, treated as less-than-human by the doctors they go to for treatment.
My approach to these issues isn’t so much about assigning blame as it is telling (or, in Workshopese, showing) what a woman with medical problems that are taboo and misunderstood experiences, both in the doctor’s office and in the world at large. It is, of course, a cliché to say that writing is a powerful weapon against ignorance, but I really do think it’s true, as I think that moving beyond embarrassment and taboo and misunderstanding to speak honestly and authentically about this kind of experience is a step towards making change.
That’s what I’m trying to do in these manuscripts, to take my one tiny step and hope that I’ll turn around to see others walking with me.
I’m very, very, very close to completion (hopefully and fingers crossed and knock on wood etcetera) with one manuscript. An excerpt from it was published in The Rumpus a few months back. I’m pretty far into the second, but since the real-life story of the second hasn’t reached a resolution, the manuscript hasn’t, either.
*I use the word “nonfiction” but really I mean “memoir.” “Memoir” just feels like a tricky word to me, almost a word I haven’t earned. I don’t think I own enough pairs of fabulous silk caftans, robes, and wide-legged pants to have earned the word “memoir.”
How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
I’m not entirely sure how to answer this question in a way that doesn’t sound like an elevator pitch.** I think the most honest answer would be that I think everyone’s work is different from everyone else’s work, because everyone comes to writing from a different place with a different set of experiences. Writing is, after all, a way of showing your reader how you experience the world. We all inhabit different selves, which means we inhabit different worlds, since we all see our worlds differently. That’s the real value of writing: it allows the reader into another person’s world, which can help us to better understand – and to be kinder to — others in our real worlds.
** I totally suck at elevator pitches.
Why do you write what you do?
I write what I do because the words arrive and demand to be written.
The words arrives, when I put in the work, when I sit in the chair and write and work and listen.
I mean something very different by this than I did back in the day. Back in the day, I would just sort of moodily moon around, waiting for inspiration, for the words to come to me. I did work very hard, but I didn’t work very hard every day – just when the figurative spirit moved me. The thing about the Figurative Spirit is that it’s really, really fickle and stubborn and doesn’t like to show up uninvited. I realized I was spending a lot more time panicking and thinking I would never write again than I spent writing. When I developed a daily writing practice, I found out that the Figurative Spirit liked the regularity and was much more apt to stop by and stay for a while, sometimes with a loaf of zucchini bread in tow. Even if the Figurative Spirit decided to stay home for the day, there was work to be done – revising and reading and submitting.***
*** I’m realizing, at this point, that I kind of answered the wrong question. I think I answered “How do you write what you do.” I think, though, that there’s an important link between those two questions. I really do think that it’s essential to do the daily work of writing and reading and revising and re-reading and re-writing and re-revising – and that once you get the how going, once you begin to do the work and listen, the what will come.
How does your writing process work?
Oh, man, I totally answered this above. I’ll add that there is a lot of panic. There’s a lot of worry. There’s a lot of feeling like my work isn’t good enough, a lot of worrying I will never get published or get anywhere. Sometimes, when I’m writing – and especially when I’m submitting – I feel the same level of insecurity I felt in seventh grade dances when no one wanted to dance with me and the popular girls told me that my dress (and shoes and hair and glasses and braces) were, like, so lame. Oddly, I feel like this is an important part of the process for me because it keeps me working. It keeps me moving forward and taking risks and trying to hone my skills.
I feel like humility is essential for most kinds of art. It’s important to remember that you’re part of something much larger than you are. Sometimes, when I read something that’s incredibly moving and brilliant and takes the top of my head off (to misquote Dickinson) – like Anne Carson, or Jo Ann Beard, or Eula Biss — I feel the kind of terror and awe my seventh grade teacher**** described when we talked about confirmation. I feel humbled, in the face of the sublime.
I think this kind of reading experience is important to writing, since it shows me what art can do. It shows me that the experience of art goes far beyond the individual, and it helps me get me out of the way. I think that, in order to write well (by which I mean with honesty and authenticity) it’s important to push the easily-bruised and also easily-inflated ego out of the way. It’s important to disregard what the ego wants, which is usually, for my ego at least, either to quit or to feel like I’m the boss, and to give the words the space they need to do what they want to do. If those words end up published? Fantastic. If those words end up in the trashcan? Also fantastic, because the words that end up in the trashcan are the words that teach me the most.
**** Clearly, there was a more efficient answer here: “my writing process works exactly like seventh grade.”
Tag! You’re it!
I’ve tagged some fantastic writers to board the blog tour train. Next week, I’ll post links to these fabulous ladies’ answers. You’ll definitely want to read them.