Thursday, June 20, 2013

Writing a Memoir and Feeding the Ghosts.

This is what 45,000 words looks like.

The Buddhist story of the hungry ghosts is one I've always been drawn to. Hungry ghosts are creatures with a ravenous hunger and tiny mouths which will admit no food. These starving creatures rattle and clamor in our minds, constantly demanding food and attention that we can never satisfy.

Hungry ghosts are most commonly used as a metaphor for addiction. The addicts stuff themselves full of drugs, alcohol, food, sex ... whatever their substance of choice ... to feed a deeply spiritual and emotional hunger that can never be nourished by such things. I think hungry ghosts speak to non-addicts too. Many of us suffer from an emotional hunger that has never been satisfied no matter where we go, who we love, or what we do. We crawl around like hungry, empty beings, searching for the thing that will cure our suffering.

I'm haunted by my own hungry ghosts, of course. If you've read my blog for any time at all, you've witnessed my search for happiness, for forgiveness, for understanding.

I have hungered long and hard for a manuscript I could never finish. I've been working on it for ten years and I have been held helpless in the grasp of failure and immobility. But then I finally did something about it. I hired a writing coach last August and I was writing along at a good pace up until I hit a difficult chapter.

I started that chapter in November. I just finished it this week, if that tells you anything about how it's been going lately.

Writing a memoir isn't easy. I think we all realize it wouldn't be easy, but perhaps we think we have it in us. We think we could do it. We think one day, when we have time, we'll put it all down. The good, the bad, the ugly. We'll put it down so everyone knows it happened. So we ourselves know it happened. As if writing it down will somehow make it official and reassure ourselves that we're not crazy. We're not alone. It all happened and we survived it. Goddamn, we survived it! And isn't that beautiful? Isn't that downright inspirational?

But then comes a chapter such as this.

And I'll be gobsmacked if I couldn't write it.

The sentences came in halting spurts. A chapter a week ground down to a paragraph a week. I wrote a few sentences at a time and it felt like drawing a razor blade across my skin. It hurt to push down. It scared me on some primal level, as though getting down deep would be fatal.

I talked about it in therapy. I talked it out with my husband. I've been talking it out for over twenty years, alright? I've told this story a thousand times. I've already dealt with it. It's old news. I'm so beyond this. I'm all like, "Bitch, please" with my childhood.

*Holds hand up*

So why I can't I write it down?

What kind of black magic happens in writing it down?

How are the words on the page different than the thoughts in your head? How is it different than saying it out loud? How is it different than telling everyone you know until it almost becomes a punchline to the joke that is your life.

I don't know.

But it is.

Japanese Buddhists have a ritual called Segaki. Segaki means, "Feeding of the hungry ghosts." During this ceremony, they write the things they wish to resolve on slips of paper and then light them on fire. Their words burn up towards the heavens as ashy offerings to the hungry ghosts. Maybe that's what the act of memoir is? I didn't know it would feel so final. I didn't know why I stayed in therapy for so many years without resolution. I never realized that the act of writing it all down, in one final work, would give me such a feeling of peace.

I think I was waiting for this.

Maybe I wasn't able to do it until now? Maybe that's why it's been so hard and taken so long?

But here at last, I'm writing it down. All of it. I'm laying out my mistakes for the world to see. To say that this happened to me. I did this. And I did that. It was real. And I somehow survived it.

Writing it down is forgiveness.

I didn't expect that part.

I burn these bits of papers. These memories. I feed the ghosts that have trailed me since I was a girl. I feed them and I ask for forgiveness and the ability to forgive. I ask for mercy for us all.

I started the chapter in November. I've gone on an anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety drug in the time since it began. I've bled into the pages. The words may read easy but it was 70 words a day. Words that traveled as though on hands and knees.

And now I've finished that chapter after seven months of struggle.

The 65-page chapter. It is the behemoth in the middle of the book. It sits heavy and sunken, dipped down in the middle like an old mattress.

But it is done, motherfuckers. That bitch is buried.

(Excuse my language. I'm drunk with accomplishment.)

I have written 45,000 words of my memoir. That's 180-some pages. I've read that a memoir should be around 75,000 words, give or take. But I figure it will be done when it's done, regardless of how many words that might be. And even then it won't be done, because I plan to spend a good long time editing and revising it. So I'm in it for the long haul.

If writing it down was opening a vein and letting it bleed, the revising will be the careful stitching up of the wound. Writing is like surgery. It's medicinal. It's messy. And I'd prefer to do it under sedation, with well-sated ghosts cheering me on.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Beware of Old Men in Starbucks

A few weeks ago I had an odd morning. I was early for my shrink appointment and had left my portable coffee mug at work the night before so I stopped by Starbucks. I got a skinny vanilla latte in a size "medium" because I refuse to say made-up names for small, medium and large. This isn't science fiction. I'm not speaking Klingon or Dothraki, okay? If it's the middle size, it's a medium you Italian posers.

Anyway, I sat down to enjoy my overpriced, complicated coffee beverage, grabbed my phone, pushed my bangs out of my eyes and began to read an article. Or Twitter. Whichever sounds better to you.

"You don't have to play with your hair, you look beautiful!" an old man shouted at me across the Starbucks. He mock-pushed his imaginary hair to the side, shook his head and flicked his wrists in an overly effeminate and haughty manner.

I hated him immediately.

"I was just pushing my bangs out of my eyes so I could read," I said to him because I am insane.

"Riiiiight!" he said and dramatically rolled his eyes. I felt shamed and hated him more.

"Ha ha," I said without humor and resumed reading my friends' Facebook statuses and pretended not to feel shamed for touching my hair in front of an 85-year-old wildebeest.

"Can I show you something," he sidled up to me and entered my personal space which is a good five feet diameter around my person. I don't like people I know touching me let alone freaky old man strangers who shame women for hair-touching in public spaces. He sat down next to me anyway.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked.

No, god, please no, I thought.

"I wrote a book," and then he in fact shoved a book at me and I stared at it. "Here, take it. Look at it. Read that." He pointed at the back cover which was covered in small type. The front cover had photos of him in various poses as a younger man lifting weights and flexing his muscles.

"Hm hmmm," I said and scanned the words. "It seems you were some sort of personal trainer or coach?" I said, trying to pretend like I cared.

"I was the biggest coach in the world. I trained football players and baseball players. I taught Kung Fu to the president. I know Arnold Swatzenegger!* I came up with the idea of Dancing With The Stars.* I gave them 35 billion dollars so they could start their business. Do you have any idea how much money they made off of that deal?"

I shook my head no and remained frozen in fear.

He rambled on and I faded out of consciousness. He talked and talked and talked about numbers and famous people and exercises and jobs and about how he was going to be on TV the very next day. I couldn't even take it all in because all of my personal space alarm bells were going off and maybe even some of my psycho-killer gonna kidnap you in a full-size van bells too. He was mad as a hatter, of course, that much was clear. But he was also jabbing me in the shoulder with his index finger and the whole thing was such a sensory overload that it stunned me into a state of paralysis.

"What do you do?" he said after he took a breath.

"I'm a writer," I said and recoiled.

He stared at me and dramatically dropped his mouth open. His eyes widened. He shook his head in the subtle motion of a Loony Toons character and reacted as though I'd just I given birth to baby dragons in the leather Starbucks chair and the afterbirth had just gushed onto the floor at his feet. I suppose he hadn't met a woman who could read and write before? Perhaps they didn't let womenfolk do that in his day. Who's to know?

"Why, you do the same thing I do!" he said. "What do you write?"

"I write for an ad agency," I said and prayed to the seven gods that I would be struck dead or a fire would burst out from the espresso machine so I could find some reason to get up and leave.

"I wrote all the marketing for NAME OF EVERY COMPANY EVER for ALL THE YEARS EVER in the HISTORY OF THE WORLD," he said, gesticulating wildly.* Then he stopped and stared at me again, shaking his head and widening his eyes in that cartoonish eye-bulging manner.

I stared at him and waited for something to make it all stop.

"Boy, did you meet the right person," he said.

I stared at him and nodded. I began to fear that I would never again see the light of day outside of that Starbucks.

"Do you want to write my next book?" he said and squeezed my shoulder.

"Can't, sorry," I said and smiled. "Too busy." I began to regret that I stopped carrying mace in 1992. I was nauseated at being manhandled and at my inability to make it stop.

Then he proceeded to tell me how he brought seven writers in for his last book and interviewed all of them. He finally settled on a girl. One girl. I pictured seven young women standing in skirts, turning around for him to inspect. I said a quiet prayer of thanks for being born after his time as I sat captive in the leather chair.

"But thank you so much for the offer," I said, remembering to be polite.  "It was very nice of you to offer."

He gave my shoulder another squeeze, giving me the heebiest of jeebies.

"Hey Judge! Hey Judge!" he yelled at some attractive woman whom I presumed was a judge. It wasn't my friend who is a judge, for a second I was hoping it was because then I could run to her for protection. She's better at dealing with this sort of thing. I don't handle aggressive people well. I sort of clam up and freeze, as you can see. He got up to go talk to the woman who was not my friend and possibly not a judge.

I noticed he had left a copy of his book with me and I googled his name on my phone. Apparently he wasn't insane and he wasn't making all of this up. Though it's possible he may have been elaborating a bit. I was kind of hoping he was a crazy homeless person because then maybe I could have tapped into some kind of compassion for the guy. But instead he was just a rich old white dude harassing younger women at the Starbucks. So I went back to hating him and quietly slipped out of the building while I had still had the chance.

*This may or may not be a work of fiction, depending on whether the wildebeest wants to sue me or not. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination, are used fictitiously or have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental or is indeed a fact but I don't want a crazy old man to sue me because I blogged about him harassing me at my local Starbucks. Thank you. My husband is a lawyer so don't sue me. Good day.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Watch the Baby Falcon This Morning! Live at 11:00 A.M. EST

Live in 15 minutes! It's the big show! The Michigan DNR is going to band our baby falcon. We have livefeed cameras both inside and outside so you can see the whole thing.