One of the reasons why I made this blog is because I'm trying to learn to sit with the discomfort of saying: I'm in the middle of something. I don't know how it ends. I don't have a smooth, finished story about my journey to give you.
But I want to be present anyway. I want to talk to you.
One of the cardinal rules of memoir-writing is "give it time". I was in a class recently with Natalie Lima - who wrote this essay, one of my favourites of the last few years. And she was talking about how it would have been impossible to write this essay a few years - or even a few months - before she did. When you're standing too close to something, she said, it's hard to see the shape of the story that it ought to take.
She's totally right, of course. But I wonder, from my own experiences, if there isn't also a flip side to this rule. One about what happens when you give life too much space - when you're always waiting and waiting for that perfect accomplishment or anecdote, that can tie your efforts up in a neat little bow, and make them seem meaningful to other people. When you're always waiting for the story to end before opening your mouth, so that you can guard against the vulnerability of potential embarrassment.
Maybe something gets lost too, in a life lived that way. When you're living "a life by publishable essay", so to speak. I don't know why other people write blogs - but increasingly, I'm realising that I made this one to outrun (and outwrite) this particular tendency in myself. I don't want to be that person who waits until the big book deal, to write a major precis of every success-oriented step they took over the past five years. That kind of writing is so, so important, obviously, and really beneficial for the writing community - I'm grateful that it exists! But it's not what I came here to do.
I came here to be messy. And a person who's trying - and potentially, failing - in a semi-public space. It's a different kind of emotional muscle - and not one that I have much experience flexing. I hope that it brings other people (and most importantly, myself) something, to see me use it like this.
I've just received the galleys for my new essay at Southeast Review! This piece is one that's close to my heart. It's about the time when I came back home on the last day of my A-levels, and used a bunch of money that I'd secretly been saving to buy a plane ticket to Israel... to live in a convent with some nuns that I'd met on the internet. Teenaged me, as you can tell, was going through A LOT. I'm glad that she didn't fall apart, while ping-ponging through her life. And that she managed to pull this one off.
The rest of my feelings about my time in Israel reside in this essay. I'll put up a link to it, whenever the issue drops... the Southeast Review is an amazing publication and, honestly, one of my favourite literary journals ever. I'm happy that I'm going to be in it! If you're curious, you can read their last issue - with pieces by Victoria Chang, Taylor Byas, Brandon Taylor - here... I personally think it's wonderful.
The last few weeks have been mad, exhausting writing weeks for me. So I'm walking through life a little more dishevelled and unfocused than usual, with that supercharged feeling of something more interesting happening in another room, just out of sight. Right now, it feels like all my creative energy and focus is going into one place - i.e. into my memoir, and into regenerating the thought processes/emotions that powered me through its constitutive experiences. This is kind of a new feeling for me - and I don't want to scare it away by trying to over-explain its mechanics. Let's just see where it leads.
I've recently become a creative non-fiction & fiction reader for Exposition Review, a journal based out of LA. We had our first reading meeting for the upcoming issue, Flux, last week - and I loved it. We sat quietly on Zoom and read through the slush pile together. And then we talked about our favourite books. I feel lucky to be a part of this team.
There was a time (not too long ago) when seeing other people's creative work made me feel fearful and anxious. But nowadays, it mostly fills me with joy. I suspect that this change has something to do with me realising, deep down inside, what kind of art I want to make, and why. Knowing who I am - and feeling secure in the shape of the work that will, naturally, result from my own life experiences and personality - means that I don't have to feel threatened by other people's expressiveness anymore. Nowadays, I feel energised when I can witness the things that other people are writing, drawing, building, and making. And for the first time in my life, I've also started seeking out friends & groups who can give me this feeling - of power and connection. I'm trying to work around my pride, and ask people who I admire out for coffee. I ask, What are you making? and genuinely want to know the answer. I try to find out if there are things that I can learn from their journeys, and their relationships with creativity. I've also (and this is far harder for me, for personal reasons) started saying no when I can sense that the dynamic of a relationship is twisted in some way, and actively inhibits my access to the thing I want most - i.e. to receive what I need and want for my own life and practice, not only provide implicit psychological service to others.
It took me a lot to get here! And it feels good to be in this space - as both a writer and, more generally, as a human being who feels empowered enough to choose their own community.
Beyond all that - if you write at all, then I encourage you: consider submitting to Exposition Review! I applied to be a reader for them because I read this essay ('How to Survive a Genocide', by Lori Yeghiayan Friedman) from one of their previous issues, and felt an immediate pull. The work that comes into this journal gets treated with so much respect and care - and I feel that it shows. I'm excited to be helping to put the new issue together.
... is an extremely important part of my creative process. A long time ago - before the defining events of my childhood transpired - music was my truest, and best-loved, medium of expression. And even though I have a tenuous relationship with it today, I still often turn to it in my most vulnerable moments - using it to process sub- or unconscious thoughts, which might feel too strange or complex or fleeting for language.
Recently, I've been listening to this song by Samantha Crain on loop, while writing. Or, to be more precise: I've been watching a video recording that I took of myself, singing and playing this song on the guitar. Watching this video, over and over again, is slowly helping me to feel something new: a desire to look for beauty, and not potential for correction, at the forefront of my past creative actions. It's helping me to feel strengthened for the task that lies ahead - of re-looking at old work (and the old selves who produced it) again, without my inner voice of self-criticism firing up.
I could say more about this, but I don't feel like it. Here are the lyrics for the song instead - the song is in Choctaw, so these lyrics are a translation:
When we remain, we will not be like the beautiful bones of a forgotten city. When we remain, we will be the flowers and the trees and the vines that overcome the forgotten city. We have woven ourselves into the cloth of the earth. We have mixed our breath into the expanding sky.