Monday, July 11, 2011

I Don't Want To Be Edith Wharton (writing about not writing)

When I was a college freshman I wrote a reflective essay for an English Lit class. It was of a deeply personal nature, the subject emotionally raw. My professor wrote in the margin “This is superb writing.  Not only have you managed to gain insight from a painful part of your life, but you have the wherewithal to write it down. I am submitting your essay for competition. Fine work. I cannot find enough praise for this."

Huh. I was pleased with my grade but puzzled at his praise for having the wherewithal in the first place. I thought, “doesn’t everyone?” Isn’t that what all writers do? I don’t know any other way to write unless I pull from something deeply personal, whether it’s explicitly spelled out in the piece or not, even my self-deprecating tongue-in-cheek humor is buried somewhere where the bodies are buried in my soul. Over the years I’ve realized the answer is NO, many have the wherewithal but not many choose the wherewithal.

I wonder what he would think of my writing now.  For a girl who claims she doesn’t write fiction, I seem to have an awful lot of made-up characters in the land of the blog. Queens and hound dogs and memes and castles and non-existent Persian cats. Don’t ask about their friends.

**Real writers, you may turn away now. 
I have something earth-shattering to say.** 

I don’t care about proper style anymore.

**Real writers, you may re-enter the zone**

I have decided that crafting my own style is, well….my own style.

I forget to take a breath and lose a comma. If there is no room or logical use for a parenthesis, I will create one. Who have we become anyway, O Perfect connoisseurs of prose, the Sidebar Police? You should hear me speak in person. People wonder when I’m going to turn blue. That could be a long agonizing death for a southern girl. Mucho (and macho) love to those of you who are regular recipients of my texting/phone call/email ramblings on a particularly verbose day. You know who you are. I know you put the phone down and walk away ‘til I’m through and don’t tell me those I’ve-got-a-beep excuses are true. I know better.

I once watched a man who knew me well, take my Italian flailing hands and hold them to my side during a blaring “debate” of the Mars Venus variety and dare me to continue talking. I could not.

I blame it on growing up in a 4-room house with six people. Thank you, God. I needed to have my say. So I cultivated privacy under a blanket in a little space all my own. No one crossed into that arena without my permission. I guarded that sanctuary like a pit bull with curlers. I hid the key in the hole in the hole in the wall. No one owned that space but me. And it was mine to craft. Little did my teacher know that my “wherewithal” began with a flashlight and diary in the wee hours of the night writing down every thought I possessed about every teensy bit of my teensy little life while my younger sister tried to sleep beside a beaming flashlight of teenage prose. I always started with Dear Diary and ended with Love, Me.

That’s how I became me.

I’ve even thrown grammar to the wind. Have you noticed my affinity for ellipses? And hula skirts? **May I direct your attention to my blog header?**

Sentences with no breath. And the ever popular habit of beginning sentences with ands and ending with propositional prepositions and dangling diddies? And why am I suddenly using asterisks today? Liberating!!!  *******!!
I dare ya to call the asterisk police. I dare ya!!

If it doesn’t sound like me talking to me, on the paper, in my head, if it is not pleasing to myself when I read it…if I don’t laugh at my own comedy, cry at my own sorrow and am not moved again when I’ve read it over a hundred times, then I know it is not good. Actually, being good is not my goal; being authentic is.
My English professor’s surprising praise in the margin became a permanent mark. He taught me to trust the sound of my writing.

And the swish of my skirt.
'Cause after all, it's mine, and belongs to no one else. 

It’s interesting not only from a writer’s point of view but from a musician’s as well. My voice teacher during rep class one day said a similar thing. She scowled at me when I was having a particularly hard time interpreting a piece from Samuel Barber’s song cycle (op. 29) Hermit Songs. Barber was one of the greatest expressive American Art Song lyricists of our time, known for setting and accentuating the natural stress of words into perfectly imperfect musical phrases. I was so moved by the words he chose to set in his masterpiece "The Crucifixion" that I allowed the lyrics to fight against the melody, creating a strain in my voice - what I call a vocal divorce. My teacher wanted a marriage. She looked at me and said.

“Mimi, you have to learn to love the sound of your own voice.”

Light bulb

Even as I write this essay on the tenets of reflective essays past and present, famed American composers, what makes me tick, and why I will not be writing one anytime soon….I write one.
I, apparently, have learned to love the sound.
**I see you. Don't answer that beep.**

Oh, you poets and lens dancers you and you and you and you and you and you and so many more....where has your writing gone?
I love the sound of it.
One of you recently said to me, "Your blog has always been about your own evolution."
You mean people knew that?  All the while I thought you were learning something new.

 Though I love the lettered spaces of Edith Wharton and Kate Chopin, they do not need an echo in this world. Neither do you. Nor I. How do you think E. E. Cummings became e.e. cummings? He didn't care about style much either.  And even if Edith hadn't written a prologue to the prologue explaining why and how she came to write Ethan Frome, I would have loved Ethan anyway - even if she did have strange pets.

I want my writing to sound like a conversation. I want my writing to read like a conversation. I want my writing to speak. To me. For then I am sure (thank you Professor Dear) that it will speak to you. Now I’m having a conversation about conversations and writing about not writing. You must be on your fourth cup of coffee by now.

This week I have a lot of scrambled eggs to unscramble, or is that the other way around? My brain took a bit of a jar in a car. I don’t know exactly how to be at the moment.  But I'm thinkin' that's a gift. Nothing like slightly unraveled eggs to hunker down one's purpose.  I may have misplaced my wherewithal for a moment you see. It comes and goes.

But this I know.
The story I see in my head is in bed with and married to the paper.

Every now and again, it's good for me to say so. To myself. (You can listen if you want.)
Keeps me hunkered down to why I'm here in the first place.

A once-upon-a-boyfriend gingerly said to me when I referred to myself as a writer.... "But you haven't published anything. How can you be a writer?"  Oh, I bristled. He knew it. Even I can see, O-Once-Upon-A, that Amazon has no shelf that looks like this. YET.  Writers are writers because they write, as musicians are musicians because they make music. As singers are singers because they sing. As painters are painters because they paint. I am visualizing the bookstore shelf and working as hard as I can.
I will dance on that table. Soon.

Mimi writes.


FoxxFyrre said...

Write On!

Akelamalu said...

Did you win the writing competition? You really should have!

Charles Gramlich said...

There are a hundred saccharine styles. Only one Mimi!

Mimi Lenox said...

Frank - I shall my friend.

Akelamalu - No. I did not win. But he kept submitting anyway. His encouragement gave me a head start on my confidence and that made all the difference.

Mimi Lenox said...

Charles - Ah! Thank you!
Just remember, the other half of my face is out there somewhere, so technically there are 2 Mimis.
Just sayin'...

Misty Dawn said...

I recently wrote a couple humorous rescue stories (with photos, of course) and posted them on my blog and on Flickr. The response on Flickr was surprising, as it is a photo sharing site, after all. They loved the stories, and I enjoyed writing them. Then my Hubs made a comment that really hit me... he said "You used to write all the time, and you are good. Why'd ya stop?" hmmmm I dunno really.

Mimi Lenox said...

Misty - Get to writing! The Queen hath declared it.
Oh. There's another identity..

Travis Cody said...

At the risk of perpetuating a trite go Girl!

I have always said that one must do what it is in one to do, in the way that seems best. One doesn't catch an audience based on how grammatically correct one can build an essay. One gains an audience by reaching the emotions. Whether you thrill or sadden or humor readers, the degree to which you do so is the measure of success.

Getting published and making money is another way to keep score.

Anonymous said...

Is your face blue? lol
You go girl.. write on!

Mimi Lenox said...

Dawn - As a matter of fact, it is. Very funny Newfoundland-woman, very funny! lol

Jamie said...

It is interesting that you came to your since of privacy in those four crowded rooms and I came to my sense of privacy in the silence of my own room never entered without my permission. You flail your hands in Italianate expression and I flail mine in the drama of imaginary companions and musical lyrics. This probably comes under the heading of things that make you go Hmmmmmmmmm.

It sounds as if you are making progress in entering the great wide world.

The Gal Herself said...

Yes, you write. Of course you do! But I'm also impressed by your keen visual sense. You are so blessed with the gifts of creativity and self-expression!

I have an old friend who has more education than I do and has tried many different careers but has always said she wants to write. I'm an advertising writer. I kind of fell into it, it comes easily to me and I'm lucky that I enjoy it so much. She once said I wasn't really her kind of writer because, "No offense, Gal, but I use what you write to light the grill." At first I was staggered that she'd be so mean. And then I realized ... oh shit, there are people who wish they had my workaday life. I should treasure it more.

So knowing that, and reading your eloquent post today, I've decided that Streisand is wrong. People who can write, who can dance or sing or paint or photograph, people who can self medicate through self expression, they're the luckiest people in the world.

Anonymous said...

when i was a college freshman writing was something I wanted to pursue. I took a creative writing class. the first assignment was to write a critical essay on the words of the school's alma mater. two days after the assignment was due, the 'teacher' walked in with mimeographed copies of the of the essays that was turned in. It was mine. And for the next hour I sat there while he and the class tore my essay to shreds.

thirty years later i'm still struggling to finish my first novel....

Michelle said...

Geez... being published has nothing to do with being a writer. Being a writer is how you breath, think, grow...

You grow real good. :-) Excuse my own sentence structure. Sore fingers = write like Yoda!

Oh and my great uncle challenged my mom to the same "talk without hands" thing. She couldn't either, but in her case it's the Irish-Greek.

Jamie said...

How about just collecting some of your favorite columns complete with pictures and self publish or submit to a publisher? More than one blogger has already done that to get their toe in the door.

Mimi Lenox said...

Jamie - Your companions seem real to me. (smile) I wish you would write it all down. Perhaps explaining them within lyrics is how they can best be expressed. Would make a fascinating book.

As for mine...point me in the direction of a real publisher.

Amazon self-publishing is probably the way to go as well. You're right.

Mimi Lenox said...

Gal - Never thought of it as self-medicating but it fits, doesn't it? Thanks for the encouragement.

Your friend was being a bit testy. Hmmm....Had I not known what kind of writing you do (which is far more complicated than it seems to people)I would never have guessed from reading your blog that you weren't a magazine contributor, editor, or any other kind of writing you set your mind to. I admire your ability to write succinctly and clearly - something I struggle with. Your style is perfect!

Mimi Lenox said...

Coop - He did what??! Are you serious??!!

Obviously he had no idea what you were about or your talent. What a crazy thing for a professor to do. I don't know how you endured that.

Your first novel will be a hit.
Just sayin'..

Mimi Lenox said...

P.S. Coop - Mail him an autographed copy

Mimi Lenox said...

"Being a writer is how you breath, think, grow..."
You can say that again, Michelle

Ferd said...

Mimi writes
write here
write now!

I love it! :-)

msladydeborah said...

I feel you on this point Mimi!

I do a lot of academic style writing and my personal style is just that-mine. I believe that if people spent a year just journaling they would learn a lot about who they are and why they think like they do.

Write on!

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