Friday, September 18, 2009

Saturday workshops in Manhattan

I will be offering three Authentic Writing workshops in Manhattan on Saturday mornings -- if you want to do some writing, this is the place to be.

All the writing will be from life -- spontaneous and personal. The workshops are for people who have written for years, people who have wished they were writing, people who write in their heads but don't manage to get it down on paper and everyone in between.

These are studios more than workshops, a place for artists to come together and practice their art -- without competition or comparison.

I do almost all my writing in these workshops. The Guru Looked Good was almost all written in workshops.

You may take one or more workshops, or you can sign up for the series of three.

We will meet at:
TRS, 44 E. 32 Street (between Park and Madison), 11th floor

Dates and Times:

October 10, November 14, December 12.
10am - 1pm.

$75/workshop (please specify which date)
$180 for all three workshops

To register:

You can use PayPal
email me at:
call me at: (845) 679-0306

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I just like bringing this one to the top of the pile every now & then...

I think that writing memoir is the most potent action I can take in this world.

When I sit down to write – not an easy place to get to – I feel all my energies and abilities come into one focus, one laser point – I feel like a bird, pausing in mid-air, then plummeting down into the waves, intent on that one fish that will save it.

I write, then come up for air, then look at what I have unearthed. It usually looks like just a handful of dust, not worth much. I could easily toss it out and forget about it. But I don’t. Not anymore. I add it to the pile. I am not sure what I am building, but this is all I have. For some reason, it is my most precious thing, the one thing that feels purely my own.

(from Experiments In Memoir ~ but relevant here)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

After Seeing Natalie Merchant

I came to Natalie Merchant late. I missed 10,000 Maniacs, for instance. But once I got out of the cloister of ashram life, I picked up on her pretty quick and even bought Motherland (I say “even bought” because I have an age-old poverty-related tic that makes it hard to buy records/tapes/CD's) – an album that I have consistently loved now for years.

I was excited to see her perform in person last night at the women’s conference at Omega.

Natalie is a small woman in person, petite, dressed in black, long dark hair and I’d be surprised if there was any make-up.

She opened up her book of music murmuring something offhand like, “I write them and then I forget them,” then something like “Not sure if I can get through this one without crying.” She began with “Tell Yourself” – perhaps my favorite of the songs I know -- a version of the song perhaps slower than I am used to, every word clear and aching. The tears did not come until perhaps the last line “And there’s just no gettin’ round the fact that you’re thirteen right now” -- when I heard her voice crack just a little. The tears came right into my eyes too. In that moment especially I was the girl in that song.

Then came about 3 more songs, all of them pensive, exploring, searching for meaning. They didn’t have regular rhythms of verse-verse-chorus. None of that. All of them moving like rivers of piano and lyrics. You knew, listening to this music, that Natalie was singing about herself every minute, that this was an inner exploration of a life.

One song she began and then quickly stopped and laughed and said, “Oh, I know this one,” and she took down the book and played by memory.

“It’s wonderful and terrible to be here,” she said at one point. “Wonderful because of this great gathering, and terrible because it has been a long time since I have been out.” She noticed someone holding up a camera – “Oh,” she pleaded. “Are you filming me? Please don’t film me. This is just for us.” And went back to playing.

She played a new song, one of those meanderings of words and music and when it ended at perhaps an uncertain point she said, “That’s as far as I’ve gotten.”

“It’s good to come out of the forest sometimes,” she said later almost as if talking to herself.

And after the final song she simply, gracefully, walked out. There was no standing before the audience either when she came in or when she departed, no standing and taking in what would have been a long standing ovation, a great wave of appreciation.

I am left with the belief that Natalie is even more complicated and interesting than I already suspected. I said to my husband later that night (he’d been there too), “I felt that Natalie was so completely herself tonight on stage.” She wasn’t trying to please anyone. She was living her life. Unexpected and wonderful. She didn’t make it look easy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ice Breaker

So many people use the word memoir, especially these days, and I wish there was another word for what I mean when I say memoir. I am determined to find a new word and am sure that I will, but it may take a long time.

I say I’m a writer and people ask, what do you write, and I say memoir, and then they think I’ve written a memoir and that's it. Why would anyone write more than one memoir, right? Or they think that I want to write a memoir because I’ve done something interesting like climbed Mt. Everest, or lived with a smart animal.

In the same vein, I hate it when, in response to hearing that someone has done something unusual, people say, "Now he should write a memoir!" As if that's what memoir were about. As if a good memoir is about something interesting that someone has done. That's a mistake that's easy to make: writing memoir that assumes what has happened in a person's life is more interesting than the person themselves. It's as wrong as someone saying, "Why should I write memoir? Who'd be interested in what I've done?"

I was walking with a friend a few days ago, someone I like a lot. He had just finished his manuscript about a very intense period of his life with a dying parent. “But who needs another book about a dying parent?” he laughed, even though I knew this was one of the saddest, darkest, most definitive times of his life.

“I don’t read a memoir for what it’s about,” I answered. “I read a memoir for what it tells me about the writer.”

Every memoir – every good one – is a self-portrait, and the more blatant and honest it is the better.

Yeah, but what about the quality of the writing, I hear my critical friends asking. It’s not enough to be blatant and honest. Actually, it is.

There are other memoirs that claim to be blatant and honest just because they spatter blood and guts all over the page. I'm not talking about that, though it works sometimes. I have found from writing that honesty is a pretty slithery thing. It is subtle. You have to really find ways to look at yourself, your past, where and what you came from to really start to draw a self-portrait that has any meaning. This is much scarier than revealing the simple fact that your father fucked you, which is scary enough.

My favorite memoir I’ve found this year? When Skateboards Will Be Free by Said Sayrafiezadeh. We have invited him to present at the Woodstock Memoir Festival this year and we are thrilled that he has said yes.