Old Wounds

A few weeks ago, I dug out the stack of journals I wrote when my mom died. I filled almost 6 books from the end of June to the end of April. Ten months of grieving, nine months of carrying my baby. Two more journals written sporadically after the birth. New moms have limited time, as you can imagine.

journals

Opening old wounds is like peeling off a scab and watching the blood rise in tiny glossy beads. It stings, but also feels strangely satisfying.

Rereading these journals brings me right back to those early days. After only a few words, the tears that have seemingly dried up, or gone into hibernation, pour out. I welcome them, as painful as it is, because grief connects me to my mother.

It maintains and strengthens our tenuous connection, the invisible string that binds us together, from womb to body, from life to death.

I’m reading these old journals not simply for connection, but for research. As some of you know, I’m creating an online grief course for my friend Claire De Boer’s site, The Gift of Writing. The course, (tentatively) called Crossing the River, is about writing through grief. Not as a means to an end, but as a way to connect and integrate (healthy) grief into life.

This course isn’t just for those who are mourning a death. You can grieve the end of a relationship, whether it’s a break-up, divorce, estrangement, or abandonment. You can grieve infertility, the loss of a lifestyle, or a dream. In a podcast with Rob Bell, author and grief expert, David Kessler explains that grief is about change. Death is a big one, of course, but grief is how we deal and process any major change in our lives.

While writing this course, my grief has returned to me in fresh waves, but instead of rawness and confusion, it’s a release. The tears come and go and so do I. Moving forward in my life, grief is my shadow. Not a dark or scary one, but a companion that I find comfort in knowing is always there.

What are you grieving, right now?

I’ll keep you updated on the course, but if you have any questions or would like to be notified when it goes live, send me a note in comments or here: writingatthetable@gmail.com

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The Art of Finishing: Guest Post

You have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures… And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking. – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

I’m so pleased to be up on The Gift of Writing with my latest guest post, The Art of Finishing: Manifest Your Writing Goals.

I’ve mentioned my struggle with my novel-in-progress more than a few times here on the blog, and it’s a challenge I suspect many can relate to whether or not you write. In my post I offer three simple ways to move past your own resistance, which can be defined as any thing, thought, or person that keeps you from achieving your goals.

Writing the essay helped clarify my own plan and I hope it helps others who find themselves stuck or sidetracked in any aspect of life, artistic or otherwise.

Please click here if you’re interested in reading the article. As always I’m honored by your support in whatever form it arrives!

P.S. If you haven’t already, consider signing up for my newsletter. You don’t want to miss my  upcoming Valentine’s Day inspired theme – Falling in Love with Podcasts: The Literary Edition!

The Small Backs of Children: Book Review

One word has exploded a world of new-to-me authors and books: podcasts.

That’s how I found out about Lidia Yuknavitch, author of two short story collections, the ground-quaking body-centric memoir, The Chronology of Water, a novel about Freud’s famous first patient, Dora: A Headcase, and her latest fiction, a heart shattering and language loving novel, The Small Backs of Children.

I don’t often review books on this blog (hey, maybe I will) but after reading my first Lidia I felt a shift, the seismic kind. So often, reading removes me from my body. You probably know what I mean, when immersed in a riveting story, you lose your physical self and float away in a time-space oblivion. But this time the opposite occurred. Reading The Small Backs of Children I was as fully aware of my body’s responses to her words as I was to my brain’s.

The book was intense and when I finished I felt shaken and stirred (sorry, but there’s a lot of drinking as well as violence and beauty). Shortly after, I began writing my first short story in two years. I know her influence left an impression on the choices I made in regards to language and the body.

Are you curious yet? My review is below, and shortly, I will be sending out a long-awaited newsletter with an exhaustive – but thrilling (!) podcast round-up. If you’re not a podcast convert yet, you may be by the end. Please consider signing up (CLICK HERE!) for my newsletter if you haven’t already. Believe me when I say you won’t be inundated. Maybe monthly, if the stars and planets align.

Now, finally…

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch

This is a book about the body. Women and children’s bodies, and the violence inflicted on them during times of war and peace.

The Small Backs cover

Yuknavitch begins in the mind of an unnamed girl, in an unnamed Eastern European country, as she recalls the obliteration of her family home – and entire family – while walking in the snowy woods a year later.

In many ways, the girl is the focal point of the story, the sun which all the other characters orbit. None of these characters have names. They are a band of artists identified only by their work: writer, photographer, painter, poet, playwright, and filmmaker. When the writer of the group falls ill, unable to come back from the oceanic grief of losing her stillborn child, her friends rally to help.

The intersection of the girl and these artists make up the plot, but the idea of “plot” is used loosely as this book defies conventions on every level. Early on, Yuknavitch plays with the translucence of fiction and memoir by including biographical information in the story. The Writer even says, “Every self is a novel in progress. Every novel is a lie that hides the self.”

Is the Writer a thinly veiled Yuknavitch, an echo of her lived experience? Is she playing with us in this passage? How much of the book is based on fact and how much is fiction?

But this wonder is soon set aside. There are more pressing issues at hand. Sweeping philosophical questions with no definitive answers arise, including – how is motherhood defined, can art save lives, and what responsibility does an artist have to her subjects? All this is juxtaposed alongside explicit sequences of torture and sex (sometimes consensually, sometimes not).

Yuknavitch writes with ferocity, as if she’s daring the reader to look away. As she explains in an interview with The Rumpus, the goal of this book isn’t to entertain or comfort; the point is to agitate.

Agitation may be an understatement for some readers. Despite being deeply invested in the book, even I had some moments of discomfort, but I kept reading. Maybe it’s like a highway car accident, how other drivers slow down to look. Once viewed there is no un-seeing the carnage, and that is the point of this book. Yuknavitch wants readers to be changed, and I imagine many will.

One thing that struck me about this book was how acutely aware I was of my own body while reading it. Usually when reading fiction, I lose myself. I become unaware of the passage of time and my own physicality. But instead of disappearing, my body was complicit, cringing and humming along with the characters’ experiences.

This novel is not for the fainthearted. Trigger warnings abound. There is blood, lots of it, but as the narrator says toward the end, “You wish I would stop speaking about all this blood, but I’m afraid it’s the point.”

Yes, it is, because this is a novel about the body, about pain inflicted, but also pleasures amassed. Despite all the horror, Yuknavitch celebrates the resilience and strength of bodies. How sometimes, with luck, the heart will continue to pump despite the scars, despite the weight of grief we all carry.

(Highly) Suggested pairing: Yuknavitch’s memoir, The Chronology of Water.

Chronology of Water cover

What books and/or authors have you stumbled upon that have changed your life/rocked your literary world? Please share in comments. I’d love to know.