It’s the start of a new year, so it’s time for a writing exercise plan to shake off the winter flab. I’m pushing out of my comfort zone by experimenting with new forms and voice. I’ve been reading a lot of early readers, for example, studying their length and style. (If you’re on GoodReads, you can catch up with what I’m reading.) My favorite so far has been Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke, a little gem of a series that has all the seeds of a great literary piece for kids who are seven and eight. Nice trick, right? It won’t be long before I start trying my hand there.
I’m also venturing into adult writing for a few precious weeks – which feels like sacrilege for someone who adores writing for kids as much as I do. But it’s true. Starting this Monday night, I’ll be joining my friend Valley Haggard as a student in her Creative Non Fiction class at the Black Swan bookstore.
This is a stretch for me. For starters, I have a really erratic memory. I can remember the exact pattern of the sofa in my mother’s living room when I was eight, but I can’t remember a name I’ve just learned. My husband claims that I’ve forgotten entire chapters of my life, like the Genesis in concert at Madison Square Garden, which I flatly deny attending, despite his very damning details about people, clothing, where we sat.
But the bigger problem is about courage. Unlike Valley who writes about her grit and failings with unflinching honesty…maybe even gusto… I’m sometimes a coward. I write fiction, after all, that wonderful land where we explore the truth through a handy veil of lies. When we’re writing non-fiction, on the other hand, we’re out in the open and we’re dragging our loved ones out there with us. It’s a recipe for disaster, I tell you.
These aren’t state secrets, I’m keeping, of course. Just life, like anybody else’s. Well, maybe not. I live with my husband, my college-age kids, and three ailing women who are all over 80. Some days my life is about Depends Underwear and pureed vegetables. Some days, I’m a referee, a massage therapist, a translator, a courier, a short order cook, a lunatic. There are side-splitting moments and terribly sad ones, too. But this screwed up family story is really about forgiveness, about how we can sometimes offer it and how sometimes, we can’t. To tell this story of how we all got here, I’ll have to hold up to scrutiny this clan of quirky, troubled, and loving people. The thought of taking it on leaves me in knots.
My childhood friend Raquel (R.J. Palacio) said it best last week. She knew me when I was seven, back when most of the cast was already assembled but we were still early in the show. She knows what I’m up against. “I think you have an adult book in you, Meg. Take notes!”
So, I’m going to put myself in Valley’s hands and see what happens for a few weeks. Maybe it will remain nothing more than a personal journal. Maybe it will become the start of a comic memoir or an ongoing column somewhere. Maybe I’ll cannibalize parts and turn it into fiction after all.
It’s not important.
What matters is that I’m working on craft by walking into scary personal terrain armed with only my writing to save me. All I can do now is channel my inner writing ninja, the one who knows how to maneuver around Life’s sucker punches to let their weight tumble those troubles down.
I’ll keep you posted.
Where to find Meg next? Check out the calendar page