|Love, NYC 2011|
We just read Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which she refers to in the piece.
This is a rough draft, as always is the case with my students' pieces here.Actually I prefer to call them "raw drafts" instead of rough drafts - it better depicts why I find them so powerful.
When I visit my son and daughter-in-law I take a flash drive with me that contains
everything I’ve written in the last year and a half. Every time we are together, there
or here, they ask me to read some pieces. That’s one benefit of having a close child;
there is one person in the world who actually wants to hear what I’ve been writing.
These little reading sessions usually occur during the first evening of the visit, after
a satisfying dinner with lots of catching-up conversation and several glasses of wine.
I may read for twenty or thirty minutes, pausing briefly between the mostly one-
page essays. When I feel as though it would be pushing my luck to continue, I stop.
I think my timing is pretty good; they don’t beg for more, but they don’t look bored
either, or politely pleasant.
Last time I read to them, my daughter-in-law asked if I think I am a happy person
now. I said I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, ever since I cut myself loose
from my lifelong tithe to state government. Why did she ask? Because, she said, so
much of what you write about seems really sad. There’s a heaviness to it that feels
hard, as though it must have been hard to be you.
I hadn’t thought about my life or my writing in quite this way. I think of my writing
as straightforward, as reporting, and some people have even said it lacks feeling. At
least, they say I don’t write about how I feel. I am struggling with the difference, or
rather how to reconcile reporting on my life and filling the report with my feelings. I
was trained as a journalist. Might this be part of the problem?
Maya Angelou reports on her life, but she fills it with feeling. I don’t know how to
do that. And yet, I am a feeling person; I am filled up with feelings. Until listeners
asked for more about how “it felt,” I thought my writing was filled with feeling, too.
Now I am trying to catch fireflies – those little sparks of light that blink out just as
I get close, and then light up again somewhere else. I can’t seem to catch them and
use them to light up my stories.
What did it feel like? Can’t you tell? Are you paying attention? Do I have to spell
it out? I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve. Don’t make me put it into words. It’s
there for you to discern. How would you have felt? Isn’t that what matters: how you
relate to what I write; what you take away from it? This is my gift to you. But don’t
take my beating heart or all will be lost.