"The Story of Body", an essay that I wrote about my ex-life as a child concert pianist, has just been accepted for publication! Because of the speed at which these things operate, it's coming out in the Spring 2022 issue of Colorado Review - which feels way too slow for me, since this is an essay that I can't wait to share.
Because this is a piece that deals with childhood trauma (and the ways that it recurs in adult life), it was really difficult to write. But putting it out in the world has massively changed things for me, both personally, and as a writer. When I shared it with people and observed their responses, I started to gain a clear sense of who was, and wasn't, invested in my journey towards self-recovery. Articulating the parts of myself contained in this essay helped me to pause some relationships that were hurting me, resuscitate once-dead ones, and restructure the dynamics of others that had been around for a long time, but without actually serving me. I got new tattoos; I made new friends (or got to see new sides of my existing ones surface in response to a more forthcoming me); I bought my dream wardrobe; I danced to folk-pop bands from my teenage years while making dinner in my flat. I began to feel that every version of my past self - terrified child me, religious teenaged me, messy young-adult me - were all part of the same person, and all on my side, spurring me on to tell the story of how things came to be. With this essay, my life has slowly begun to look a lot more on the outside like what it has always felt like on the inside - time in its totality rising to the surface of my body, and staying there to make a home.
On the writing front, this essay has made me reconsider what I'm doing with my whole book project. Once "The Story of Body" arrived on the page, I knew with 100% certainty that this was what I wanted to be writing about - this topic, this part of myself. Which made me wonder if the other essays - which I had previously thought might be coming together to make a book - were really nothing more than practice pieces... rote exercises in shoring up history in language. This isn't a question that I've fully resolved yet! I wonder if there isn't some value, after all, in sharing practice pieces with the world - something in it that has to do with being real and vulnerable and human. When I was a child in the piano conservatory, I was often forced to play practice Czerny pieces at public recitals and masterclasses, as a form of intentional humiliation - to show that I wasn't ready for the "real thing" yet. But now that I'm an adult trying for authenticity, and not impressiveness, I'm beginning to think that these metrics of shame don't apply to me in the same way anymore. I don't have to be ashamed of my behind-the-scenes learning, since all that I've ever done, and all that I've ever been, can matter to the journey. Can be worthy of being seen.
So right now, the question of whether there will be a book or not remains an open one for me. I want to see where the work takes me, and what it wants to become... I'm proud of "The Story of Body", and of all the changes that it's brought into my life! And I feel excited for when I'll be able to put a link to it up on my website.
For the first two years of my writing life, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to pretend that I had it all together. On the surface, anyway, it looked liked I was doing all the right things: coming out with new pieces fairly regularly, sending them off to journals with an almost fiendish drive, and padding out my rota of publications. But behind the scenes, I knew the truth: which is that creative writing often felt bitter and painful to me. I knew that I was not, in fact, the thriving creative creature that people thought I was, when they looked at my website. Instead, I was goading and scolding and, more generally, punishing myself into writing these immaculate pieces - so much so that I felt quite deeply stressed, and steeped in self-loathing even when I did receive praise, or get published.
In the time that it took me to admit this to myself, I came to a realisation that felt both spot-on, and extremely upsetting to me. What I realised was: no amount of external validation would ever give me the thing that I had come to the writing desk in search of, in the first place. The thing that I was looking for, in my writing, was an authentically rich, joyful, and playful creative life. I wanted a ritual for making beauty that I actually enjoyed, and looked forward to practising each day. And this, unfortunately, had to come from inside me. It was simply not something that could be gotten from other people's praise, or from the ratification of any number of prestigious institutions. No award or gatekeeper would ever be able to give me what I most truly wanted - and had, in fact, shaped much of my adult life around procuring.
The joyful creative process that I wanted - I had to give it to myself.
Realising this prompted some slow changes in my attitude towards writing. Not all at once, but bit by bit. For one thing, I have come to accept that my creative process is different from most other people's, as far as I can tell. Maybe this has to do with the coping mechanisms that I developed around self-criticism, back when I was an underaged conservatory kid. But when it comes to writing, I can't produce drafts, and I can't do the usual thing of revising an unfinished work piecemeal. Instead, I go for six to eight months working at my day-job as a marketing researcher, not writing a single word. And then, one morning or afternoon or evening, I basically sit down with a gigantic flash of insight, and spill the finished piece out wholesale from my fingertips.
In the past, before I accepted the mechanics of this process, I used to hate myself so much for writing this way. I would force myself to eke out regular drafts, as everyone else seemed to do - mostly to falsify a feeling of control, and reassure myself that I was still on track. As a result of this, I would end up with all these beautifully-turned phrases that could be forcibly coagulated into essays - but that I knew were lacking in authentic insight, while skirting the true emotions and stories of my life. No matter how much I revised these drafts, I knew that they would never yield that through-line of authenticity that makes a piece of nonfiction writing pop. The ingredient that they were lacking - genuine selfhood - was something that I, personally, would only be able to access if I pulled myself away from the page, and sat quietly for a while without any expectations.
This year, I'm trying to relax into the knowledge that my process is what it is, and is beyond my control. Instead of spending those six to eight months chained to my desk, internally yelling at myself, and labouring away on Thesaurus.com, I try to spend them on littler creative gestures: doing paint-throughs on Youtube, cooking, painting my nails, and flavouring soaps. Cycling. Going to the beach to watch the sea. And now, perhaps, blogging. All this stuff might seem trivial, but it's part of a working process that I'm slowly learning to trust: one where beauty can materialise without emotional pain, and without the mechanics of self-flagellation and toil. It's not always easy, though! Right now, for instance, I'm processing an essay about my family that has been bubbling away in my thoughts since March - with not a single word to show for it. A part of me still feels uneasy, obviously - what if the tender yet sharp, complicated essay that I want to write never shows up? But increasingly, there is a counterbalancing voice inside me that says, also: Maybe it will and maybe it won't. It's okay. Let's wait and see.
I wanted to end this post with a picture of my writing desk - which I have turned into the most beautiful part of my flat, so that happiness might pool around it. But it's late, and I've just stayed up all night for the Tin House summer workshop (which I'll probably blog about at a later date!). I'll put the desk in a future post, and end this one off for now.
Some years ago, when I was a child and then a teenager, I kept a blog. I kept a blog like most people keep a secret. For a long time, I worked hard, squirrelling tiny, salvaged bits of my selfhood away to a place that felt simultaneously within the world's reach, and sacred to me.
For many years, the blank page with a blinking cursor felt like the one place where no one could take anything away from me. Where no one could compel me to give up my sense of self, in service to their own anxieties or fantasies. My blog was the place where I went to feel safe. It was the place where I went to feel like me.
When I turned 19, I decided to stop blogging in order to learn how to live more fully in the world.
It took me almost ten years to achieve this. Even six months ago, I would have said that I wasn't quite ready yet. But now, I've decided to start keeping a blog again, to test the tensile strength of what I've learned about sensing and exerting my authentic self. I'll use this space to talk quite generally about the writing life - to share my experiences around submitting, journals, residencies, etc. that might interest other writers who are just starting out (or who live outside of a big book market, like I do!). When it comes to writing, I've never been one for in-person connections - writing is something that I do best alone, away from the currents generated by other people. So most of what I've learned about the etiquette and nomenclature of the writing world came to me distantly, from online sources. I hope that my blog might help other writers who prefer a voice in the dark to direct connection - I am like you.
I might also blog on here about topics that interest me more broadly - like sound healing, psychoanalysis, poetry, and so on. I'll share new work that I publish, and discuss the process of journeying through a dense backlog of creative trauma, as a working adult. I can't promise that I'll blog very often - in fact, it's likely that I'll blog approximately twice per year, which is the same rate at which I write my essays. At a comfortable rate, in other words. At a rate that feels like me.
The year is 2021. Reader, welcome to my blog.