Wednesday, September 9, 2015


Things I learned over the Labor Day weekend I spent in Ojai with Lidia Fuckin' Yuknavitch and Jennifer Fuckin' Pastiloff:
1. Lidia will give you writing prompts and writing guidance that don't resemble anything I've seen anywhere. I can't share them with you because it wouldn't be fair to her. But if you're bored by the same old advice with slight variations you get in workshops and craft classes and so on, seek her out. She's sly and brilliant and possibly the most complete person I've ever met.

2. Jen is one of the more unusual yoga teachers I've ever obeyed with my body's movements, and easily the most inspiring. Get into her. She has more love than the sun.

3. I need retreats like these on a regular basis.

4. I am a fiction writer. I'm not a memoirist. I can't resist being a storyteller of my own life in conversation, but every time we got a writing prompt I kept wanting to make things up. This was not a retreat away from some fearful truth, but a desire to seek truth through something I could shape more freely than my memory.

5. [extremely personal admission].
I want to share two pieces of writing I did this weekend. The first is what I wrote in response to a prompt about the most recent thing I did that scared me. I didn't have to think long: the scary thing was the short story I wrote on Wednesday, one week ago. I had no clue what I was up to - I was feeling my way, with those handrails - and I was frightened to bits about whether it was good or not. But I had to write it to meet my workshop deadline, and out it came. Like so:
Aching hand. Empty stomach. Jaw-clench headache. This phrase, that phrase, bird by bird. No memory of this morning, yesterday, anything real before this: feeling, fingers fluttering, into the blackest parlor under my hair.

All I know is these two people: a man (a boy) and a girl - they exist in different eras; they want the same thing; one takes lives and the other gives hers. The verse of it is the other all-I-know, the sense of comma and colon, where to start and where to stop and what to place in between. Sounds, rhythm; content coming back to its feet on the second round.

The light has changed. The last time I noticed the air conditioner kicking on and off was hours ago.

Sentences have geography, they have geometry, they have abstraction and recursive hearts. Their secrets have hearts and their hearts have secrets.

Sentences like piano sonatas, like well-composed sauces, like expensive perfume, like LSD light shows, like quiet fur. Yet there is no word, no sixth or seventh or fifteenth sense, for what's behind my eyes when I shape clay into birds.

Enter clause, exit clause. David. Lidia. The weight of it, the length, the beating drum. My blood and bones and gray matter, the composition of my aliveness.

The composition. Composition. Compose. Compose.

"Write fearless sentences." -Katharine Coldiron

So that might be kind of a journal entry rather than a real thing, but I'm sharing it more or less to tell you that I wrote this story, which I think is called "The First Snow," on Wednesday and I can't wait to read and revise it. I experienced many synonyms of fear while writing it, but I set them aside and kept going. Bird by bird.

The other piece is something I read aloud on the last day. Jen asked me to put it into the world. I wasn't satisfied with posting it on Facebook (too ephemeral), so I'm placing it here instead. The prompt was the two-part question "What gets in my way the most? And what the fuck am I going to do about it?"

I knew, instantly, that the answer to a) was the idea that I don't know enough. That I don't have enough education or knowledge. This notion leads me to all kinds of unnecessary decisions and actions. I wrote what follows in answer to b), but because no one was recording, you'll have to imagine me stamping my foot and roaring it at a room of 39 other women:
Write anyway. Write the shit. Write the Shinola. Write the funny and the tragic. Write the signifiers and the signifieds, the transcendental signified, the middles and the edges, the me and the everyone else. Write the heart that you don't have. Write the music made by others. Write it all, all you can, and in that is the knowing. In that is the knowing. Go to school if you want. Keep learning always. But mostly write on, and in that is the knowing. And so it is. 

1 comment:

Dru Rafkin said...

You fucking rock - I can still see you and hear you reading in that room surrounded by the power of you, by the rest of you, us.