Writing on Rue Hemingway

This morning I boarded the metro, enveloped in the stillness and smells of the morning journeys; perfume, cologne, shower soap and burnt coffee, with a feeling akin to that of being in an airport. It is without a doubt my favourite time of day to ride the metro. The time of day where I feel as though my day could actually go somewhere exciting, before the dirt of the day clings to peoples clothes and expressions and the majority submit to ‘just getting through’.

I got off after a half hour or so and ambled up Rue Cardinal-Lemoine, where once Hemingway lived at no. 74, and bustled into my writing workshop with just a few minutes to spare.
It was just the second week of the workshop, and enjoyed it as much as the last, possibly even more so as my hands shook just a little less this week, than they had the week previous, when my nerves had overcome the reasonable logic that taking a writing class again would be of invaluable experience in many ways. One of them being clearly to help my shaken confidence!
I had had a nightmare the evening before about my story being loathed and set on fire, but, although a little intimidated by the talent around the table, am happy to say my piece was in fact generally liked, and I received some thoroughly useful criticism... as well as some not so useful as you do in the business of subjective art. 
Where I have done a great deal of study in terms of critical thinking, and have written essay after essay based on this in both science and the arts, I was again struck by my ability, or perhaps disadvantage, to get so emotionally lost in literature, that my critical thinking skills fail me. In fact, 90% of the stories the class wrote moved me in such a way I felt I was not reading a short story from a workshop, but instead an abstract from a published novel, one I wanted to continue reading. I allowed myself to become emotionally attached to stories of real people, people I sit beside and share cake with while battling over the ideas of what makes a good story, to the point where to drag myself back into the present was a challenge. Most especially because I wanted to speak to everyone at length about their memoirs and their experiences, as opposed to simply analysing structure and semantic details. And this is another lesson for me to learn. To not become overly involved or too personal, but instead attend to the task in hand.
Yes a problem I find I often have in life and relationships too. That is becoming overly involved. But at the same time, I want to be able to listen completely. I want to understand, communicate, develop. I find, that most people never listen.
I am a classic ‘super sensitive’ and I suppose perhaps this is why the memoir assignments are a challenge for me. Because as I do in life, I generally feel, before I intellectualise. I don’t necessarily feel the charge of memoir more so than I do of fiction, except that in fiction I know when it’s over, it’s over, the characters have finished their story. In memoir, you know people are out there daily living their lives carrying around these triumphs and tribulations, and it is harder somehow to just dismiss. It seems cold to simply dismiss.
I said in a previous post that I cry at just about anything? Again I have always been this way. I cried at the farm where I kept my horse one day in 199’something because of a dark energy I felt, and couldn’t explain until an hour later a pony got caught up in a wire fence, and damaged her leg so badly she had to be put down. I have more than once cried at putting my slippers on the wrong feet. And today after class on my way to buy chicken and bananas, I cried when I saw a homeless man lying drunk on the street. I am struggling with this memoir assignment as I am dredging up feelings and memories I have long since tried to forget, only now realising I haven’t really dealt with them much at all, and probably because they are not in the past, but really still quite prominently in the present. And all those feelings are now therefore being projected onto the nearest excuse.

I inadvertently link past experiences (for example the climbing out of illness and back into the real world, the bliss and horrifying struggles of my most recent relationship, and wrenching family issues, that at times have left me an emotionally unpretty and shamefully mad woman) with present ones like we all do, for sheer inability to do anything else, but to allow ourselves to feel and grow.
And since our assignment for class has been about memoirs of loss and discovery, certain painful memories have been on my mind and playing in loop like a dodgy dvd. Not welcome. But lingering stubbornly none the less.

Hemingway said; "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
The joys of such spoken truth!
I am simply not accustomed to bleeding anywhere that is not the privacy of my own bathroom, double bolted, shower at the ready to wash the evidence away.
Because what has been so awful about my life anyway? Nothing. I in a way have welcomed drama, loss, confusion, embarrassment and heartbreak, for without it I would not be able I do not imagine, to think or grow or learn or create anything.
The audacity of my emotions! The shame!
Hemingway also said; "Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it-don't cheat with it."

So, the class is proving to be emotional only two weeks in, to the point where I am crying behind dark glasses on the metro. However, this is not, I hope, from self pity or grief, but more out of bringing things to the surface, and saying things out loud whilst attempting to take my foot off the censor brake, in order to create something which will I hope be meaningful and artful. I am embracing the human condition. To hell with the consequences. 
Through writing I aim to learn to move people to laugh or cry or ponder or dream the way writers have moved me to over the years. I want to write so people can find comfort, company, or answers that were already inside themselves. And where I do believe that the best writing stems from experience, that brilliance grows from knowledge, I do not want to write over indulgent mish mash that sounds like ‘blah blah blah’.

(This blog doesn't count...)

Something else to consider, is the advice I am being given, to please people, to think about what I as a reader would want and readers/fellow writers such as those in my class, without sacrificing my voice as a writer, but perhaps allowing for the adjusting of volume or tone of said voice in order to sell.

To sell.
Then, I find myself considering what is selling and being read currently, and the opinions of the current state of literary affairs within the general population. 
What rattles me is, for example, the attempting to ban literature such as Brave New World or Lolita from schools for being 'overly sexually explicit' (although personally I think the reasons have much darker political connotations such as the continuing of attempting to keep the general population obtuse and uninformed about the other issues raised in these works of art)...when a text such as Wetlands is published in translation, and flies off the shelves as a bestseller despite being given somewhat to devastatingly negative reviews, in both the London and New York Times.
I will admit this is a book which even I can’t bring myself to read past the first chapter as some of my girlfriends pour over it. Perhaps this is ignorance on my part. Or only personal taste. Yet Catherine Breillat's novel Pornocracy kept me so disgustingly captivated I read it in one sitting, after having tracked it down in an art gallery in Bristol. Pornocracy, as far as I know, has never been on a bestseller list.
But simply put, why ban books at all? As we as writers are being advised to bleed by the greats, whatever happened to the freedom of speech and therefore the freedom to listen or, as it happens, read, in this generation? I can chose not to read a novel, just as a publisher can chose not to print it. If it gets printed (firstly congratulations to the writer) then leave it to the reading population to decide whether it is worth its weight in ink.
Therefore, I conclude, perhaps I shouldn’t worry so much about what other people think, but write as I please, embrace my experiences instead of shy away from them, and ‘leave much of the work up to the reader.’ (from Memory and Dream, Roger Rosenblatt, this week’s class extract).
I had just better buy the Kleenex in bulk.

Happy reading!


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