Last Saturday I was in Soho, waiting to meet for the first time the memoirist Said Sayrafiezadeh. He wrote my favorite memoir of ’09, “When Skateboards Will Be Free” and he had suggested we meet at McNally Jackson on Prince Street, a bookstore I had never heard of. Walking down from the Bleeker Street subway stop, I realized that it must have been a long time since I'd been down this way. I didn't recognize the blaze of new stores and all the pretty people filling the sidewalks. One place that claimed to be a “deli” had an open-air swath of tables, filled on this warm-enough day, and I swear we could have almost been on Rodeo Drivc.
I arrived at the bookstore first and went straight for “New Nonfiction” and within minutes had found a new Alice Miller, reason to celebrate.
Alice Miller first came to prominence in the eighties with her first book, The Drama of the Gifted Child. I wasn't in the States then and missed it, and missed all her books until just a few years ago when I discovered “The Body Never Lies” and “Pictures From a Childhood.” Now I think of her as someone doing absolutely individual work. I find her work immeasurably supportive and it is the only thing that makes any sense to me, that helps at all, when I find myself down in the depths of depression when nothing looks good or hopeful.
Someone asked me about writer's block yesterday. I think of writer's block as a form of depression, the form that hits writers when they want to write and can't. I advise anyone who wants to write real memoir, hard-hitting, no-holds-barred memoir to read Alice Miller if you want some support. And you're crazy if you don't want support.
Alice Miller is a true ally of a person's individuality. She doesn't give a flying fuck for your parents. And that's unique.
Everywhere I turn I see people doing more or less what they want, but reserving a corner of themselves for their family, especially for their parents. When it comes to family they give in and follow the rules. I see it all the time. People out there supposedly having their own lives, but as soon as a parent gets sick, or a parent has a birthday, or a child is coming home for Thanksgiving – everything is overturned. Real life is put on hold, because, after all, “it's family.”
You can't write memoir if you're going to hold onto that stuff. Or you can, but your writing will be compromised to the degree that you are willing to bend it to fit family values.
Okay, well a bunch of people have stopped reading by now, so now I'm just talking to my fellow hardcore writers. Here's Alice: “Many impressive rituals have been devised to make children ignore their true feelings and accept the cruelties of their parents without demur. They are forced to suppress their anger, their true feelings, and honor parents who do not deserve such reverential treatment, otherwise they will be doomed to intolerable feelings of guilt all their lives. Luckily, there are now individuals who are beginning to desist from such self-mutilation and to resist the attempt to instill guilt feelings into them. These people are standing up against a practice that its proponents have always considered ethical. In fact, however, it is profoundly unethical because it produces illness and hinders healing. It flies in the face of the laws of life.”
Strong stuff. I love it.
I didn't mention Alice when I answered the man yesterday about writer's block, though I could have. Instead, I talked about what works for me in the moment, and Alice has much to do with this. When I am not writing – when I am driving to work, or in a meeting, or out in the woods – when I am thinking about the writing I will do, and then when the moment comes – finally, I am in a workshop or here at the local coffee shop with my new laptop bought for a song – and instead of the release I’ve been looking forward to I feel resistance, suddenly there is nothing to write, no story to tell – in other words, when writer's block rises up, this is what I do.
I rebel. I fight back. I can't see my enemy. Can't see the force that does not want me to speak, that wants me to feel small and insignificant and ridiculous. I know that's what's at stake. It has nothing to do with my true value or abilities. It may take a moment or two of hesitation, of capitulation, but I pick up the pen, I will not be deterred or convinced that there is no point to writing. I know there is. Because I’ve been through this many times. I know I must overcome this. And I get the first sentence down and then the second and then the third. And I damn well keep going.