Monday, March 16, 2009


Simply mentioning my book for the first time in months set off an internal maelstrom capped by complete panic in the grips of which I considered quitting writing and getting a job at the mall.

This reaction would be amusing if it weren’t so predictable. Since the first, seamless, innocent draft, the thought of editing my manuscript has sent me into spinning anxiety.

I can never decide no matter how much I prod my mind and my soul if this anxiety is a normal reaction to a monumental task like writing a book or a sign that I shouldn’t be writing this particular book.

I recently read in the New Yorker that David Foster Wallace said, “the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies in being willing to sort of die in order to move the reader.” I don’t purport to be on his level (nor end like him), and he wrote fiction, but I will be brave enough to suggest that this statement might be even truer when one is writing memoir.

When I think about what I will have to scrutinize, parse out and reveal about myself to make this book truly good, it kind of makes me want to throw up. It’s exciting to think that this could be possible and moving to an audience, and terrifying to think about how difficult it will be and how, should I fail, I will have simply laid my guts out on the table to be picked apart by vultures.


  1. It is true. Quincy Troupe wrote a poem in which at one point he paints a picture of his mother sitting on the toilet with a stack of magazines next to her. I thought, gee, not the image I would want my now poet laureate child to publish of me. It's not exactly the same as what you're talking about, the personal-to-you emotions, but when I asked him if he ever held back writing things that he was worried others wouldn't appreciate he said you have to be honest, no matter who it hurts.

    Unfortunately, that is what good writing is. Writing until it hurts - only then will it touch others, seem real, be authentic. There's no hiding behind the bush and just giving people peeks and hoping it's good enough. When I wrote about my mom's death I had to reach for that. Can't say I'm there, totally - but I think I'm better about writing stuff that hurts me more than I am of writing something that has the possibility of hurting someone else. Course, I'm writing fiction these days, so no one can prove I'm talking about them as long as the names are different!

  2. Your comments on "sort of dying in order to move the reader" reminded me of Audre Lorde's poem, Litany for Survivial. Here it is...

    For those of us who live at the shoreline
    standing upon the constant edges of decision
    crucial and alone
    for those of us who cannot indulge
    the passing of dreams of choice
    who love in doorways coming and going
    in the hours between dawns
    looking inward and outward
    at once before and after
    seeking a now that can breed
    like bread in our children’s mouths
    so their dreams will not reflect
    the death of ours;

    For those of us
    who were imprinted with fear
    like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
    learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
    for by this weapon
    this illusion of some safety to be found
    the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
    For all of us
    this instant and this triumph
    We were never meant to survive.

    And when the sun rises we are afraid
    it might not remain
    when the sun sets we are afraid
    it might not rise in the morning
    when our stomachs are full we are afraid
    of indigestion
    when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
    we may never eat again
    when we are loved we are afraid
    love will vanish
    when we are alone we are afraid
    love will never return
    and when we speak we are afraid
    our words will not be heard
    nor welcomed
    but when we are silent
    we are still afraid.

    So it is better to speak
    we were never meant to survive.

    --Audre Lorde