It’s hard to believe that two weeks have passed since my Creative Nonfiction Writing Seminar wrapped up its last class at Lasell College. Two days after the class ended, I boarded a plane and headed to Colorado to visit my college roommate. I always enjoy spending time in the area where I lived for four years in the early “oughts.” If you read Message From a Blue Jay, you’ll see that the first two essays (after the prologue) are about my time in Boulder. Every time I’m in a plane landing at Denver International Airport, I can’t wait to catch my first glimpse of the mountains through the window. One of the best things about living in Boulder was waking up to a view of those mountains every day.
My four days in Colorado passed all too quickly this time, and before I knew it I was back home. Thankfully, I had time to read most of my students’ final portfolios on the planes. Now that all of the grades are in and recorded, I’ve started thinking about a second-semester freshman writing course I’ll be teaching next year. The course will use “Life Writing” examples (personal essays and memoirs) to help students improve their English skills by writing papers based on readings. The students will read several of the personal essays we examined in the Creative Nonfiction seminar, but they will also tackle two full-length memoirs: Maus by Art Spiegelman (which I think is a masterpiece) and This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff.
So far I’ve had to develop a new course before (or during) every semester I’ve taught at the college level, so…I’m getting used to it.
It’s been important to get back to my own writing, too. For the past few months I’ve been drafting a new personal essay, and I was able to focus on it more once the semester ended. I wrote it in a long form version, then tried it in a very short form (which all three of my “beta readers” didn’t think worked) and then returned to the long form. Nine drafts later I have something that I think is just about done (happily, the readers agree). I’ll let it sit for a bit before going over it for any final language tweaks, and then I might submit it to a few literary journals I have in mind. This one was tough — I decided to go back and explore the period of my life when my first marriage failed as I was still trying to cope with the health issues I dealt with in my early thirties. It’s not the most cheerful subject, I know, but…I noticed that I had been avoiding writing about that period of time, and I’ve heard a number of writing teachers give the following advice: If you find yourself shying away from something in your writing, maybe that’s what you should be writing about. No guts, no glory (if “glory” is the right word when it comes to writing).
One thing I try to do when I write about such topics is find something new or different to say. I think it’s important in personal essays to transcend the events or characters — the personal nature of the topic, or the content (or situation) — so you can find something universal to explore. I really don’t want to come off as if I’m writing about “poor me.” I think a good story or essay has to be more interesting than that. So, this time I tried something a little experimental…I used white space and segments to braid three different time periods of life into one essay. Then I tied it all together by tackling an underlying theme I think many people struggle with: forgiveness.
Anyway…it wasn’t an easy piece to write, and I don’t know what the future holds for it. I’m so glad that after “opening a vein and bleeding onto the page,” to paraphrase Paul Gallico, my “beta readers,” at least, felt like it was worth it.
Now that I’ve completed that essay (for now, at least), it’s time to consider my next topic. We’ll see what comes up. I’m still thinking about some fiction ideas, as well.
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to January, when my newest publication, “Winter,” will be featured, along with an interview, in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, thanks to the incredible editor Meg Tuite. I’ve met Meg in person a few times, and she is one of the most creative, interesting, kindhearted, generous people I’ve ever known (she’s also a unique and talented writer — check out her books). I’m honored that she chose me as the January Featured Writer in her column. I’ll post a link when the interview and essay are available online.
That’s about all the news for now. The holiday week is in full buzz in Boston, although over the last two days the weather has warmed and turned rainy — not exactly the white Christmas many New Englanders hoped for. Still, snow or not, tonight is the last night of Chanukah, Christmas Eve is tomorrow night, and New Year’s Eve is just a week away.
I wish you a peaceful time with family and friends over the next week, wherever you are and whatever you celebrate. And if the holidays are a difficult time for you, know that many people struggle at this time of year. You’re not alone. Find support wherever you can.
Let’s stick together and head into 2015 with hope.