Sunday, February 10, 2008

Things I'm learning while writing a memoir

So. This memoir journey has been unlike any other writing project I've ever worked on. Part of it is I have no idea what I'm doing. The other part of it is -- yeah, I have no idea what I'm doing. Compound that with worrying about what someone else might want or hope the book to be in order to buy it, and you've got a combination for turbo-block.

This weekend I held a workshop on Writing Begins with the Breath. It was good practice working with "real" people on all the activities in the book. I was, as usual, surprised by what came through me in the group. I never know what I'm going to say when I teach. Sometimes I suck. Sometimes I say something worthwhile. Sometimes I say something that surprises me. I probably did all three yesterday, but I definitely surprised myself. However, I surprised myself in a way that is absolutely embarrassing. I let myself be fully in the meditation and movement pieces we did in the class and I realized (here's the embarrassing part) that they actually work. And, I realized that my movement practice and my meditation practice know far more than I do. Yes, yes, I did already "know" that -- but it seems to be something that I keep needing to re-remember. The other part that surprised me was something I said. "Compassion creates softness, which creates openness in the writing. Judgment creates contraction, which creates a block in the writing." This was one of those surreal moments where the entire group of students scribbles furiously in their notebooks and someone asks me to repeat what I said (ha!) I actually wanted to write it down myself because I'd never written it down before, and I'd never thought about writing in exactly those phrases before, and something about it showed me that I have been judging my memoir from the very first inkling of conception. I've been trying to pigeonhole it for someone else. I've been trying to write something that is only semi-vulnerable because I'm realizing how freakazoid-y it is to have work out in the world that people are actually reading. My ego is checking in fast and furious -- no, sugar, don't you even go there. Na-ah, no way, no how. True to my Extreme Leo Nature, I have been pushing and pushing and forcing and forcing this project. I do, actually, know better. And I would have told any student telling me this story to do exactly what I haven't been doing. I always know what to tell someone else. (Don't we all?)

Another surprising (to me) thing I said yesterday was about chasing thoughts. We were talking about monkey mind and the distractions it sends us on, and I thought about chasing a cat around the house to put it in a cat carrier to take it to the vet. If you've ever tried to do that, I don't have to say anything more. You can't catch a cat that doesn't want to be caught. And you sure as heck can't put a cat in a cat carrier that doesn't want to go in it -- at least not without more than a few scars. If you stop chasing the cat and sit down in the living room and wait, odds are the cat will come out in search of you. Ah. And big duh! That's what happens with the voice and direction of a book. When you stop figuring out what it needs to be and where it needs to go and just listen to it, it may crawl out from under the couch and chat with you. It's the only shot you've got as a writer. Otherwise, you're in an antagonistic relationship with the work, and, well, that really doesn't work.

So today I had the most glorious gift of an entire afternoon at Wild Iris (the coffee shop by the now-flowing Granite Creek) to write. This is a weekend without yoga training, and, (the last one for twelve weeks) a weekend without student papers to read. I had two cups of coffee. Spoke to three friends who came in. Talked with Julie, the owner, about this funky clothing store in Jerome. And then I started to get glimpses of something. I started to melt. I got, in my body, (thank you uttanasana) that I have to love it all -- and, since this is a memoir -- I've got to love me. All of me. The me that lived with a monster for two years. The me who over-intellectualizes. The me who focuses on achievement and doing. The me who can't actually remember living on this earth without the company of ghosts. The me who is still secretly afraid she's going to hell because she can't accept Jesus Christ as her personal savior, Amen. The me who made my father cry. The me who hasn't yet really learned how to be intimate. This me -- who needs to write about the most intimate relationship she has ever had -- her relationship with language and with ghosts -- regardless of what marketing departments may say.

Writing is the ultimate act of surrender, and the first to kneel before it is my ego.The next step is still shrouded. There's something here wrapped up in barbed wire. There's something I need to say because I can't seem to let this go and return to my novel. I know there's something simmering. But I've gotta love myself first, and that may be the biggest challenge of all. If writing doesn't induce a state of love, then why bother? When I look back on my past work, that's what happened. I learned to love a little more. With each book, I learned to open a little more. This time I know even less about what I'm doing. Even less about what matters. I've been closing and contracting around it.

So here's the ultimate irony of the weekend -- writing does, indeed, begin with the breath. Harumph.

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