It’s amazing how freeing not writing with your writing-group-as-your-audience-in-mind can be.
My writing group hasn’t been the most productively space lately for me–and for the rest of us, meetings intervene, people are too busy blah blah blah–and I think all of us are struggling with the Zodiac as a writing prompt. I know it’s killing me–I just can’t think of anything good to say about the constellations or what they stand for. Bless them, the other three in my group have rallied, and have done some interesting things with the various Signs, but so far, I really haven’t liked what I’ve produced. (Well, to be fair, I liked my Pisces poem, but the others not so much.) I’m not sure why I don’t find the Zodiac as inspirational or compelling as it could be–except that (and I’ve mentioned this in previous posts) that I feel like I need something connective to write about–in other words, I need a theme. The Zodiac could be a good theme, but so far, I’m not moved.
Which brings me back to the first line of this post. Because I’m not writing with my writing group as my audience, I’m writing some interesting stuff. Not poems–I think I’m not in a poetic mood lately–but creative nonfiction. Maybe I’m feeling a little confessional lately–and I feel like I can be that way in nonfiction because I know that the three other people in my writing group are only interested in poetry so they’re not going to be reading these nonfiction pieces. Somehow I am shy about writing about personal (emotional) things in my poems because they are the first audience who sees what I write–and when I’ve brought them poems about relationships or “my inner self” (gag me, that sounds so pretentious) in the past, I’ve felt like they haven’t responded well. I may be too invested in pleasing my writing group to be real with them.
But my nonfiction–which so far has an audience of one (me)–is about pleasing me. I just completed a 20 page essay about a previous (and for the most part secret) relationship in my grad school past. In the class that I’m teaching this semester, about women’s contemporary spiritual memoir, one of the assignments my students have to complete is a spiritual memoir of their own. And in reading the books with students, wherein these women express their “real” selves, and explore their relationship with their Deities of choice as it impacts on their lives as women, I felt inspired to write a kind of spiritual memoir of my own–one that looks at a relationship about two people whose different religious backgrounds wind up driving them apart.
I know that I need some outside eyes to read it, and to offer me some direction, because I’m aware of some narrative flaws and have concerns about how I represent the religion of one of the characters in the memoir. But those outside eyes, whomever they may belong to, won’t be my writing group. My writing group knows me–or thinks it does–too well, and I need interested but personally uninvested critique. I’m not sure where I will find a new audience–but there is someone I know, though not well, a writer, whom I’ve approached to give me some insight into how I might develop this essay more fully. He is going out-of-town, but has agreed to meet with me when he gets back. And in the interim, I’ll continue to work on it, and shape it. I think it can be publishable at some future date, and I’m at a point in my life where maybe I’m ok with sharing more of my true self with others. We’ll see.
I also just wrote another essay, though a shorter one, in which I discuss how my manuscript came to be (the one that I’ve sent to 21 publishers and have so far received 3 rejections for) in relation to a book I’ve just read, Theresa Senato Edwards’ Voices Through Skin, which among other things examines an extremely abusive marriage. Of course you can never say that the author is definitively the speaker of the poems, but I feel there is certainly an element of autobiography in what Edwards is writing. In writing my essay, I recognize something about where my manuscript comes from–I really don’t think I had put it together before now, though: the relationship violence and rape that one of my characters experiences is really a reflection of the relationship violence and rape that I suffered in my own past. And the way in which the character deals with her sister’s rapist is all about empowerment and justice–the same empowerment and justice that can only come from surviving something horrible.
I’ve never really discussed the abusive relationship I experienced. I spent years in depression and self-loathing for it; I took cocktails upon cocktails of prescription drugs to dull the pain and more therapy than any three people put together. Coupled with the depression one endures just from being in grad school, it’s a damn wonder I’m still alive. I’ve told a few people that I was in this relationship, but always with minimal detail, and it’s not something that you can easily drop into conversation. In fact, I lost a few friends because they couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just “get over” that relationship. I’m sure they needed to protect themselves–but I’m also just as sure that they wanted to silence my pain. Because if I, a reasonably intelligent and educated woman, could fall into a relationship like this, so could they. And who wants to admit that they are just as vulnerable to being belittled and hit and raped, merely because they are women?
Anyhow in some way, although my book is nothing about me, JC, I think it probably evolved as an imaginative response to the very real horrors of my life. I’ve written this book years later after that abusive relationship, of course, but you can never escape your past. Writing this essay where I look at relationship violence and Edwards’ book and my own is really kind of freeing. At some point in my life, I might write some creative nonfiction about that abusive relationship exclusively. Or I might not. Ten-ish years ago is a long time, and sometimes ghosts need to remain ghosts. But we’ll see. It helps that if I choose to write about that relationship in detail I don’t have to rely on my writing group for critique or affirmation. They are just not interested in that kind of writing.
And there are others–out there, somewhere–who are. And I will find them, and maybe find a new writing group to help me explore the creative non-fiction me as it emerges.