February 16th, 2012body
In 2007, I entered the University of Washington’s MFA program in creative writing as a fiction writer. I had written a personal essay in college, and, knowing about the success of books like Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation, I knew that I had a story to tell. But I had spent the past several years learning about plot, voice, person, dialogue, psychic distance, and all the other stuff that goes into making good fiction. I didn’t know anything about how to write good nonfiction, and I didn’t know how to start over. Entering grad school at age twenty-two, I stood back and examined my life, and it was a life, with a brain and heart that rattled like a broken garbage disposal, but it didn’t look like a work of literature.
During my first quarter at UW, I took a nonfiction class with David Shields and five other first-year writers. I worked on a personal essay. I learned to “bring the pain,” as we all began to say after watching Chris Rock’s 1996 HBO special together in order to examine its structure. By the second quarter, I realized I was working on a memoir, and I realized I was bringing the pain to the page so hard because I was drawing it right out of my gut. The process of writing about painful truths and memories, even though they were recent memories, was brutal.
I felt that because there were so many books out there like Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation, Alice Sebold’s Lucky, William Styron’s Darkness Visible, and other works of memoir that tackle roughly the same issues that I wanted to address, my strange brain had to work its magic on my own matter and present it in the newest and most interesting way possible. I wrote a chapter in the form of a match.com profile, a chapter that exploded and reassembled a letter from my psychiatrist, and one that did the same with a senior linguistics paper about the language undergrads use when discussing “hooking up.” In another chapter, I discuss my enrollment in the Cowlitz Tribe and my issues connected to Indian identity, but I refuse to allow the memoir to become limited to that single topic, despite my Indian identity’s prominent role in my everyday life. One chapter is a mashup of lines from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and personal commentary. Another, published in 2011 in Filter Literary Journal with the title “Preliminary Bibliography,” takes the form of an annotated bibliography, my life’s reading list.
I’ve been working and reworking the memoir since 2007, and earlier this week, I accepted an offer of publication from Red Hen Press. My Body Is a Book of Rules will be published in September 2014. This is so awesome. I’m excited to be published by the same press as, among other excellent writers, Native poet Orlando White—his book was one that I had recently gone through the process of purchasing, reading, and discussing with others. When I thought back to ordering his book for my university department, receiving it, and reading it, I realized that my book was going to be a real thing, too, a thing I could share with other people.
I’m lucky enough to be very involved in the process of preparing and promoting my book, so I’ll be writing a lot more about that process here.
People sometimes ask me, “Aren’t you a little young to be writing a memoir?” I am not. Nobody is too young to tell a good story. At age twenty-two, when I began writing it, I had a lot to say, and it took me five years to tell it right. Once I did, I had a good thing, and that good thing came from a good process. I wouldn’t recommend that everyone write books about painful things, because writing properly about pain draws a little blood, but now that I’ve examined my hurt, I’ve neutralized it. Now, the writing is done, and I’m ready to move.Tags: My Body Is a Book of Rules, writing
February 15th, 2012body
Every night I stay up at least two hours later than I should. Many nights lately, I am up at two in the morning. My stomach screams until I realize that I am the one who is being addressed. I try to bite sturdy slices of cheddar into the shapes of U.S. states. I don’t know the shapes of any U.S. states, so this exercise is imaginary. I set the cheese on fancy napkins in order to legitimize the cheese, as though I am attending my own fancy hobnobbing party, but in truth it’s just me, holding a slice of cheese and a fancy napkin while leaning against the kitchen counter, watching my cat knock her water bowl into her food bowl so she can turn her dry food into wet food. She really makes a mess. We both do.
Most of the mess is clutter, really. If I could hide more things in cupboards, there would be fewer issues. My coffee, for example, arrives in five-pound bags, which I pour into jars, and they have nowhere to go, so I act like I mean for them to decorate the place. Coffee is an important food for someone who stays up so late. I have more things to do than hours in which to do them, and the only weapon I have in this fight is coffee, which hacks at relaxation, tears apart complacency. I’m not exactly feeling that I want some right now, but I do want to get this sleep thing over with so that I can rise, caffeinate, and resume. When I awake, I will tear into my lecture on the movie version of Twilight: New Moon as though I am Edward the vampire and the lecture is one of those small forest animals he exsanguinates because he can’t have human blood.
Daytime foods must keep up their appearances: Superbowl deviled eggs, bag-lunch tuna sandwiches with cucumbers and tomatoes and all. Lately I have become so nervous that I have begun to mother myself, in a way, trying to entice myself to take a little food. I pair a grilled cheese with some tomato soup. I buy little ready-to-go meals at Trader Joe’s. I’ve lost thirty pounds in the past year, not all from nerves, but not all from effort.
I think often of one of my favorite poems, “Things” by Fleur Adcock. At night, all my day’s fumbles pile up upon my head. All my gaffes roll up into rubber band balls of anxiety. Then, as Adcock writes, “All the worse things come stalking in / and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse / and worse.”
The nerves aren’t really about the day, the little fumbles, the tiny slip-ups over which I obsess as I fall asleep. The nerves are about the bigger things I’m afraid of: publishing my book, writing another, teaching, juggling it all. I fall asleep before my brain can climb over the finer rubble to reach the boulders.
Then I sleep. If you saw my last post, you know what the morning brings:
I get to start over, I get to have coffee, and best of all, I get an apple, sliced so thin I can see light through each slice.Tags: apples, brain