In case there are any new readers here, I just want to preface this little story with a bit of background. This week marks the end of the third semester of a two-year MFA in Writing program. My manuscript project is a memoir focused on my teen years, ages 13 through 18. Mine was not an ordinary childhood. Beyond typical dysfunction. Enhanced by the place and times: Nantucket Island (summer playground for the rich and famous) during the 1960s and ’70s.
My writing until the past year has danced around the deep stuff. I thought I could get away with that. But you really can’t, not if you want your work to have enough substance for a reader to sink their heart and soul into. Who wants to get uncomfortable? Not me. But part of the beauty of this writing program is that it stretches students’ writing, leads them to fresh frontiers, equipped with new self-editing skills. The other thing it does, because the program’s intent is “literary” writing, or narrative that is character-driven rather than plot-driven, is teaches us about writing “emotional truth.” Wow. If I had realized that before applying, I might have skittered away and declined applying, opting for familiar mediocrity. Reading someone else’s emotional truth is a completely different ball game than writing your own. I am a reader – always have been. Now I am learning to be a writer.
So fast-forward to this past week. It is time to bring the manuscript to a magnificent finish. (Next semester is dedicated to editing, shaping, rewriting and grooming.) It took me four days to write three pages about a 2-sentence letter I had received. Four days. (Please tell me that even the tortoise finishes the race!) But here’s the strange part. See this photo of me when I was 14? Note the little bump next to my nose, below my left eye.
This cyst drove my father crazy – he always wanted me to get rid of it. It never bothered me and eventually it just went away. Well, this past Saturday a strange thing happened. The biggest red crater appeared in the very same spot on my face. Most unusual, as my skin is quite reliable and clear. And need I tell you that the letter I was trying to write about was one that had to do with my father? Writing this passage has kept me awake for two nights and plummeted me right back to a dark place I thought I had left behind long ago.
Last night was the worst: I read a light mystery but couldn’t follow the story line or make sense of the characters; drank warm milk; talked to my cat, Corabelle; and finally fell asleep some time after 2:00. But when I woke up this morning, I knew how to take the story forward. It is now done. And the nasty red blemish has receded to a dark pink, with the promise of vanishing very soon.
The power of writing never ceases to amaze me. … Any of you had a similar experience? Do tell!