This post began as part punishment and part practice to recount my experience listening to author Deborah Levy and editor John Freeman at a live event here in Santa Fe.
If we told our lives as we really feel them…no one would be bored.
— Deborah Levy
I’ve been working on a few writing projects over the past few years, technically the same number that could be described as ‘several’ years. I write slowly as you can see from this opening dilemma: do I say few or do I say several? ONE SENTENCE IN and I stopped to question my word choice. Numerically, few and several are more or less the same. Energetically, they feel different to me. While my projects are lollygagging their sweet time on the road to completion, my consciousness of and appreciation for the act of writing grow steadily.
When I started ‘serious’ writing — my personal ideas, not the extensive business writing I’ve done over the years — I developed this vague fear of reading others too much. I was concerned that my own voice would be squelched, arising from my deep and pathological levels of codependency. How deep, really, you might ask? ’30 days in psychiatric treatment’ deep when I was turning 40. (I can’t pull up the exact year at the moment. For loose accuracy, I was between 39-41. This footnote is an example of another thing that slows me down. Accuracy poses challenges for me; I want to be accurate. Not just for accuracy sake, but out of fear of being exposed as being wrong.)
Codependency has me on speed dial. My flavor of it was infused with vicious levels of shame. That shame serves as the hub of the other codependent behaviors: insecurity; fear of being found wrong — even on the smallest and most insignificant details; deference to others and their own opinions and desires; repeated failures to set my own boundaries; exhaustion from putting others first. Maybe I can say some of this out loud.
Reading Deborah Levy is “to offer the listener more life… Opening a Deborah Levy book…here is the full Monty of it, charged to the maximum voltage, violent and beautiful, strange, holy even.
— John Freeman
Reading others, I feared, would overwhelm my monkey mind with: what is good writing, how should I write, how can I fit in and be accepted, and so on. Fortunately for me, avoiding reading did not completely stop me from writing. My hard drive bulges with hundreds of pages of unpublished material. On a solo trip to Bali in 2007 I wrote an entire 120-page book. Though reading had been a lifelong pleasure, this book diet contributed to my own voice emerging. I’m ready to share my voice. The more I read, the more I want to write.
What do we do with the knowledge we don’t want to keep alone?
— Deborah Levy
There are many answers to that question, what do we do, and for writers, the answer is often, “Write.”
The black hole visited me yesterday, again, the curse of putting others first. Those ‘others’ are typically my clients, as I continue to have a day job as a digital marketer and web worker. In the past few months, I’ve been increasingly cranky. I wasn’t reading. I wasn’t writing except for 20 minutes of morning pages 4-5 days a week. Once again, I was fed up with myself. Instead of checking email this morning, I chose to write.
Deborah included in her memoir, The Cost of Living, her thoughts and feelings from reading James Baldwin while she was writing her book. That shook something loose in me, to simply tell the story as it unfolds. I’m guessing there are many details she left out. But this detail of writing about her life while reading about another writer’s life, and including that in her book, woke me out of a false notion that the written word — the word one is writing — should not be com-mingled with the words of others. What a vague and silly notion that I must be original and unique in every single moment of writing.
Deborah and John mused about how public history and one’s intimate history are entwined. My desire to write was so strong this morning, that I’ve written this entire post while subtly listening to the first morning of the impeachment hearings in the background. As the corruption of government officials is outed, so is my own corrupt and demeaning approach to writing now exposed.
History is not interesting unless we can find ourselves in it.
— Deborah Levy
Editor’s Note: I’ve really enjoyed editing out the defensive moments in the first draft and adding in details my inner critic wanted me to hide. It’s a start. And my time us up for today. Thank you for reading.
Photo Credit: Don Usner