Me with I'm Sorry You Feel That Way author Diana Joseph at The Smitten Kitten
I fear this post may get sappy, but so be it. [Interjecting from having finished it, I can safely say, nothing to worry about there - I will gush over Diana more later, I promise!]
Diana Joseph brings that out in me. She'd told me she might be coming to my workshop, but I wasn't sure, and she wasn't there at first, but when she walked in, I was thrilled but also nervous. One of my favorite writers is taking my writing class? The one upshot of an insanely stressful and exhausting weekend was I didn't have much stress left for the class, and I think it went well, despite forgetting the handouts I'd had in my luggage that never made it onto a plane on Friday night.
Anyway, afterward, I told her how much I loved her book, I'm Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man and Dog, on Sunday after my Erotica 101 class, and how excited I am she's reading at In The Flesh in September (and is going to be in Best Sex Writing 2010, but that is its own nightmare right now, so we'll just glide over that), and it was this mutual admiration society. I felt like we could talk for hours on end. I meant it when I said her book changed how I see nonfiction writing, the possibilities for it. Whether I’m up to the task of dissecting those around me, let alone myself, the way she does, I don’t know. I want to because I have so much to say, so much that would be either good comic fodder (cue…looking all the hell over for my keys, burning a pair of underwear in the new vacuum I bought, wanting to cry but laughing instead at the absurdity that is my life) for a novel, or something else. It’s all hatching, waiting, while I lie in “bed” (aka, my overcluttered couch) and think about how this might make a good piece of writing. How someone somewhere might identify with, rather than just pity, me in the state of affairs I’m in. But all too often I don’t.
It’s late, I’m tired, I’m this, I’m that. Mostly, I’m scared. I think the fear winds up trumping everything. I’m so so used to failing that sometimes they just wash right over me. Missed a flight? Oh yeah, used to that. Bounced checks? Used to it. I hate being used to it. I hate expecting myself to fail, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet of course I must like it on some level, to find comfort in it, to find comfort in not writing over writing. I think I'm also scared to talk about what's really in my head, the things I fixate on that I don't totally understand, that I long to figure out on paper like some protracted math problem, adding, subtracting, multiplying until my thoughts piece themselves together into something neat and tidy. Instead, I try to puzzle out what I imagine people want to hear, some approximation of what other people are doing, what other people are selling, rather.
Diana Joseph recently wrote on her blog a brilliant take on the perils of writing (do be sure to read the whole thing, it's worth it):
For me, the worst part of writing, the ugliest part, happens when I'm starting something new. I don't like writing the first draft. The sitting down, the sitting still, the hard work of ignoring that mean voice in my head that says hey, you, this is stupid, this doesn't make any sense, this has already been said by people a lot smarter, funnier, prettier, and more interesting and profound than you could ever double dog dare to be, and besides, the bathroom is filthy, the laundry has piled up, there's a funky smell rising out of the drain in the kitchen sink and there's pacing to do! You haven't paced enough today! Get up and pace, and while you're at it, check the batteries in the smoke detector.
And then, of course, the kicker:
You suck you suck you'll never write anything good because you suckity suck.
There’s a line in my second-favorite essay of hers in her memoir, the first one about her son, the one that brought tears to my eyes because it was free of all the folksy “being a mom is the best thing in the entire world” sentiment you get in a lot of parenting writing. Or rather, the love she feels for her son didn’t have to be beaten into the reader’s head. I don’t have the book in front of me because I lent it to someone but she’s talking about the three statements she always comes back to regarding her son, and one is, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” That’s how I felt this weekend, to/for myself, to Minneapolis, to my friends. There is no excuse for a 15-hour trip. There is no excuse for all my constant failures, the way they seem to race themselves to see which can be the biggest, which can win some imagined race to the very, very rock bottom. Of course, it could be worse, but as I felt the scrape of some object against the back of my thigh, the burn of it as I scrambled all over Saturday, dust sticking to me in the heat, defeat finally taking hold in my key search quest, I couldn’t see it, couldn’t figure out what was next, what new way I could self-destruct.
I have a few things I’m proud of, things that are in the works, things that are making me feel like I am not regressing, but they are so few, so minor, next to the great failures, they are hard to see. I want to claw my way out of them, somehow, some way, because I don’t know what will happen if I don’t. But meeting Diana gave me so much hope, that one can create something greater than ourselves out of words, but not just words, the raw material of our lives in all their messiness, their imperfections.
Check out the unusual but perfect for the book trailer for I'm Sorry You Feel That Way: