When I began writing my memoir, it was a bonfire burning brightly, my fingertips hot on a keyboard that had never revealed my thoughts or memories. To anyone. I looked down upon my small-child-self from a bird’s eye view, flying low, watching the small child whose introversion was created by responsibilities and fear.
The small child ran and ran, never getting away, and the story ignited.
It burned tall as the trees, like the annual winter brush-burning that took place in our woodlot. We pulled scorched potatoes and sweet corn in twists of aluminum foil from the ashes and ate them greedily while setting fire to yet another pile of scrub.
The writing has been like that. I have grasped the fiery memories, explored the value of what stays and what goes. Yet even after several front to back revisions, and a chronologically accurate piece, I still didn’t feel comfortable that it was done. Whole. Meaningful.
It was accurate in a literal sense, but the pulse beneath the outward story was lacking.
I kept looking for guidance and have finally found it in the opportunity to study my work and the work of seven other writers meeting weekly since August.
I began what I’m now thinking of as a “Misfit’s Holiday”, taking the train down to Portland on Tuesdays and returning on Wednesdays after a manuscript class with Lidia Yuknavitch and a sound night’s sleep in the bunk room at The Society Hotel (Seattle Times: “Hotel Hip”).
We’ve met eight times with four to go, and man, I have grown!
The class series is called The Body of the Book and involves going deeper, going Corporeal, Lidia’s unique approach to teaching writing. It’s for eight writers who dare to go beyond the traditional critique models to “engage in collaborative art making.” (from Corporeal Writing)
As it says in the course description, after acceptance, participants agree to commit to “helping one another see the patterns at work in their material, helping them hunt for hidden metaphors, pointing out distinct rhythms and repetition and images, and supporting the writers in daring to develop them further, in the ways that other workshops insist on plot, narrative, and action.”
In a sense we are sharing the role of teaching and I dare say that, with Lidia as our teacher facilitator, it has clicked for all of us. After about four weeks, we were all in the groove, seeing those patterns in our own work as we saw them in each other’s, and you could see the growth in our pages. For me, it was the eighth week that was the bombshell.
I had set up a spreadsheet where I transcribed the notes from my peers for each chapter, so that I could go back and take another look at my work.
Bingo. Some hidden memories blasted to the surface. Other chapters fell out of the manuscript, no longer necessary to the overall story. My language evolved, advanced, grew. Paragraphs moved, watery chapters thickened.
Eight weeks in, I have nearly 30,000 words revised. Along with reading and critiquing 90 pages of my fellow students’ work per week, it’s a big task to tuck this into a life being lived.
I’ve been staying up till midnight—no— till one, till two in the morning—not wanting to close the lid on my laptop, and often remembering a better way to say something as I fall asleep, then sitting up to quickly note it before it disappears on the back of my eyelids.
Most importantly, I’ve gone full frontal “corporeal, in the body” in this revision and I’ve regained my writer confidence.
I suppose it’s not a coincidence that Lidia’s The Misfit’s Manifesto launched this past week at Powell’s City of Books. My fellow misfits and I sat together front and center, knowing that we shared a special secret.
I can’t wait for Tuesday.