As I sat listening to Hilary McMahon speak this morning at the WCDR breakfast I heard her say almost word for word what I heard Samantha Haywood say two years ago at the Ontario Writers’ Conference: that non fiction sells more easily than fiction, and that if you have a passion or an expertise then write about that, sell it and then tell your agent or publisher that you happen to have written a novel. I got very excited, since I am writing a memoir, until Hilary made it clear that memoirs weren’t part of this sure-fire non fiction path to getting published. But but but…
Hilary spoke about the downward spiral of the traditional publishing industry, which once again underscored the need to write because of the love of writing, and that any reward, award, acknowledgement or book deal is gravy, icing, or perhaps the chocolate sauce on your pancakes. I can’t argue with that. I know it’s true. Last year, when one short story was accepted for publication in a literary journal, I was over the moon. When they wanted to actually PAY me for it, I thought I’d grown wings. A few weeks ago that literary journal’s editor emailed me to ask permission to enter that story into not one, but two, annual award competitions. This part of the story is going to get its own blog post, but here I just want to say that even when I just think about what that means I get all goosefleshy and teary. A bow to Sally Fields here. Acknowledgement is EXTRA. It’s the writing that thrills me. Especially when it’s done; when I sit back and look over a finished draft and know that, as Pat Schneider says, that I’ve “got it”.
Last Monday, I started A Novel Approach to Memoir with Sue Reynolds. One of the first exercises was a prompt from a lovely untitled poem by Bruce Detlefsen where the poet explores what he might write about had he only a few lines worth of ink or time left. We were invited to write about what we might write given those limitations.
This is what I wrote:
what would I write?
– how I wandered Queen Street chanting,
I can’t have cancer,
and how I did
– how I stayed alone in the cabin
because I wanted to,
and how I wished every moment of that year
– how dearly I was loved, held so close
only to break his fine heart
half a dozen times,
– how dearly I loved,
only to have my heart removed
and sutured back in place
– how I sat for hours, days, years
at the feet of light and love
and learned almost nothing
– how I believed that I could hear,
that I could see
only to discover that I was both deaf
– how in one moment
all love felt and known
was a puff of dust
when I held him first,
wires and tubes in all his tender skin
– how I circled the globe
in search of home
only to find it here,
– how I tore into strips every piece of advice, every lesson
only to spend years
on my knees
sewing them back up again.
What would I write if I only had a moment’s worth of time or ink? I would write, thank you, a thousand times thank you – for this moment, this day, this fragile body that gives me such profound pleasure, such surprising pain, these lips that touch, that speak, that drink and taste; all these parts given without barter… if I had only these few moments to say what I need to say, I would say thank you. For friendship, for dance and heartache, for fiery words, fiery kisses, limbs and breath and all the things this momentary container has known. Just this – a grateful humble heart. What else do I have to say but thank you? – to motherfathergodexistencegreatmothergoddessearth – the name doesn’t matter. What would I write besides gratitude? A plea for kindness? For clarity? For vision?
What do I have to say? I have lived, loved, been loved.
It is enough.
I’m sorry if I whined.