Day 36 - Getting a Stone to Write
I know exactly the moment the dam that had been holding me back from writing a book broke open. I was standing in the middle of the road across from the Noepe Literary Center in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard.
If you want to have the feeling I had, think of something that would make you feel bad about yourself. Here’s an easy one for most people: imagine you walked naked in front of an audience after eating the biggest Thanksgiving dinner of your life. Imagine you feel bloated and goose-bumped and, well, naked. Then imagine the audience bursts into applause. Not polite, fingers-to-palm taps, but raucous slaps. They love you, your body, your wild self. They want you to twirl!
That’s how I felt as I listed off all the reasons why I could not, after all, write a book. I’d packed everything, temporarily moved across the country so I could finally get this thing written, and I found that travel and intention made no difference. My voice was still my voice, and the more I wrote, the more itself it become. I wasn’t getting more exciting or cooler or more like Hemingway. I was getting closer and closer to the bone of me, and it did not feel pretty. I was texting and walking, and HBL wrote back, That is your voice. It is perfect. You are writing your book and it is beautiful.
I stopped in the middle of the street because I had forgotten how to walk. That was my voice? That simple thing that came from my guts, my spine, the back of my head? It was so unpolished, so needy, so plain.
I wrote back, Are you sure? My heart was pounding. I trusted HBL. He pushed me. He didn’t let me circle around ideas the way my other readers or teachers had. More than anything I wanted him to say Yesbecause that would mean I was okay; I was where I was supposed to be; I actually had the skills to write, and that I could get to work.
Yes, he texted.
He Brené Brown’d me. He gave me permission to be me. If I could have burst into fireworks, I would have. It's not just about the writing. The writing is a tool so the light of you can find access to spill into the world. I could feel it inside of me, had felt it for years and years and years. I just didn't know how to get it out.
Hemingway had said to write one true sentence. This sounds easy until you realize that even your name is not your true name, that there is another, or that the name of your mother is also not entirely true, There is another mother's name that no one says.
But I had found a way into truth. I just said what I thought, what I saw. "The road is long," is a true sentence. It is a way in. The rest is for me to make up. It's my life, my story, my words.
I hustled across the street, across the icy parking lot, into the coffee house where I sat down and wrote. And wrote. And wrote.
I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t had HBL. My voice had been finally broken through there on the Vineyard after years and years of trying to be something else, but I didn’t recognize it. What if he hadn’t checked in on my that morning? What if we’d never met? What if he hadn’t kept asking, Yeah, but so what? Yeah, but then what? Yeah, but what happened next?Maybe I would have quit and gone home. Maybe I wouldn’t ever have questioned myself deeply enough to get to the heart of the story. Maybe I never would have written You Don’t Look Adopted. If I hadn’t written that book, my life would be completely different right now. I wouldn’t be talking to Haley Radke tonight for her Patreon group. I wouldn’t be flying to Austin in a few weeks to present at a conference. I wouldn’t know so many of the people I consider close friends. Pam Cordano and I would not have done that first adoptee healing retreat.
I needed someone to take my pulse, to hear me, and to tell me I was on the right path. We need guides, mentors, teachers. Some of us, me, also need pushers. As someone who had learned early on to keep many of her truest stories and feelings to herself in order to not hurt other people’s feelings, I needed a pusher. I needed an HBL.
At some point in between my two marriages, I’d had a new therapist, and while she wanted to talk about my personal life, I wanted to read her some pages of a story I’d written and get her feedback. She listened to me read, said I had talent, and then asked some question about my father or mother or baby raccoon. I don’t remember because the question was not helpful. I didn’t want to talk about the life I had or the way I was living it: I wanted to have a better one, and I had the feeling--I’d had this feeling ever since I could remember--writing was the way in.
Teachers just weren’t helpful either. I loved most of my writing teachers, even venerated them, but I was never any closer to finishing a piece of work when class was over, when school was over. When my twenties, thirties, and forties were over.
I have learned a lot from getting acupuncture recently, and I recognized that perhaps the way I clear space in and around myself when I am talking with someone about their writing is similar to the way an acupuncturist performs pulse diagnosis on a patient, using three fingers instead of one, and testing both wrists instead of one for a total of twelve pulses. As a person yearning to find her way into a writing practice, his type of close attention was what I needed from another person but, until I met HBL, never had.
I take in a lot of information when I listen to a person talk (or not talk) about writing. I listen very carefully to what is said and to what isn’t said. I listen to the words and the spaces between the words. I listen for places people may be lying to themselves, getting off track without even knowing how.
Teachers are busy. Generally they have their agendas to get across to you in a certain amount of time and they are more interested in what they have to say than in what you do. Many teachers I have noticed have a sort of microphone sickness. Maybe they weren’t heard enough as kids so, by gosh, they’ll get in front of a classroom where if anyone interrupts a lecture, it’s off to the principal’s office.
I think school is, more often than not, a choking place for writers. Part of the joy of writing is finding your own voice, that wild, unpredictable thing. Wild and unpredictable are hard things to grade, and so we are asked to park our unruly selves at the door and bring in the presentable, the already-said, the safe.
That kind of writing is easy for grading, but hard on the soul.
Who said what a sentence should be? Who made those rules? Who said what sound your pen should make as it scratches across the paper? What music the words should create?
That person is long dead. You are the living one.
Writing is a skill. It’s a tool. It’s a way of talking with your hands. It’s a way of leaving something behind when you are alive and when you die. Writing is a gift, both for the person who creates it and the person who receives it. I 100% do not believe anyone when they tell me, “I can’t write.” Even if they have no hands, the can type with their feet. Even if they have no feet, they can type with their nose.
Do we walk around and say we can’t breathe when there is plenty of air going in and out of our noses? No. Why not? Because we are breathing. Why is it not the same for writing? Why do people put words on the paper and then say they didn’t write? It’s so ridiculous!
We collect tools because they make us more powerful, handier, more equipped to get things done. Writing is a tool. It’s a form of communication, and heaven knows we can use every form of communication we can get because getting your message across in this sweet world is not always easy.
I want to be your HBL, your teacher, your guide, your pusher. I see stories and books in people the way others see auras. I think I could get a rock to write. I don’t tell people how to write. I just get them writing. I believe so strongly that writing improves the quality of your life that I push people to realize their potential, to tell their story, sing their song, write their mission statement. Your voice matters to me because without it, our world is quieter than it would be at its best, and I want you out there, being you, so we all can hear. I ask questions other people might not ask you. Because I am a body worker, a massage therapist, I’m trained to look for holding patterns in the body. I can see blocks in you, and I push and push and push until we find a way for your energy and story to run clear.
Part of this 93-day project for me is to find out what is essential in my life. This, helping people to find their voices and power, is one of the top things on my list. Nothing like eating clean and doing acupuncture and yoga and trying to be a good person to re-discover the obvious.
But it's one thing to realize your life's work and then it's another to claim it. One thing I learned from writing screenplays with Antonia Bogdanovich was that getting a movie makes takes an incredible amount of tenacity and grit. Part of me had thought if I wanted anything badly enough, I'd probably get it.
I used to think if you had to work really hard, it meant there was something wrong. Now I'm suspicious when things come easily. I have been working as a writing teacher for almost thirty years, and I'm still fighting for my place at the table. At your table. With your work. I want to be there. With you and your words and your magic because I'm the one who has done the word. I'm the one who will push you. I'm the one who cares.
See you tomorrow.