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A Strange Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Last Chapter

In case there are any new readers here, I just want to preface this little story with a bit of background. This week marks the end of the third semester of a two-year MFA in Writing program. My manuscript project is a memoir focused on my teen years, ages 13 through 18. Mine was not an ordinary childhood. Beyond typical dysfunction. Enhanced by the place and times: Nantucket Island (summer playground for the rich and famous) during the 1960s and ’70s.

My writing until the past year has danced around the deep stuff. I thought I could get away with that. But you really can’t, not if you want your work to have enough substance for a reader to sink their heart and soul into. Who wants to get uncomfortable? Not me. But part of the beauty of this writing program is that it stretches students’ writing, leads them to fresh frontiers, equipped with new self-editing skills. The other thing it does, because the program’s intent is “literary” writing, or narrative that is character-driven rather than plot-driven, is teaches us about writing “emotional truth.” Wow. If I had realized that before applying, I might have skittered away and declined applying, opting for familiar mediocrity. Reading someone else’s emotional truth is a completely different ball game than writing your own. I am a reader – always have been. Now I am learning to be a writer.

So fast-forward to this past week. It is time to bring the manuscript to a magnificent finish. (Next semester is dedicated to editing, shaping, rewriting and grooming.) It took me four days to write three pages about a 2-sentence letter I had received. Four days. (Please tell me that even the tortoise finishes the race!) But here’s the strange part. See this photo of me when I was 14? Note the little bump next to my nose, below my left eye.

This cyst drove my father crazy – he always wanted me to get rid of it. It never bothered me and eventually it just went away. Well, this past Saturday a strange thing happened. The biggest red crater appeared in the very same spot on my face. Most unusual, as my skin is quite reliable and clear. And need I tell you that the letter I was trying to write about was one that had to do with my father? Writing this passage has kept me awake for two nights and plummeted me right back to a dark place I thought I had left behind long ago.

Last night was the worst: I read a light mystery but couldn’t follow the story line or make sense of the characters; drank warm milk; talked to my cat, Corabelle; and finally fell asleep some time after 2:00. But when I woke up this morning, I knew how to take the story forward. It is now done. And the nasty red blemish has receded to a dark pink, with the promise of vanishing very soon.

The power of writing never ceases to amaze me. … Any of you had a similar experience? Do tell!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tim Deal January 31, 2010, 2:44 pm

    Unbelievable! Does this speak to the interconnectedness of all things? Lisa, I am honestly privileged to have you in my peer review group this semester. Your intelligence and critical analysis skills have really shone through.

    • myartfullife January 31, 2010, 8:05 pm

      Oh, Tim. Thank you! I was pretty wow’d by the material you submitted!

  • Fran January 25, 2010, 1:26 pm

    Wow, Lisa, this’s what you talked with me about. I’m really eager to read your manuscript. And not at all surprised by the coming and going of the crater. Our minds are not detached from our bodies. Good for you for sticking through it.
    And Sue West’s quote is SO right on target. Let us know how you like Legacy of the Heart.
    Big (((HUGS)))

  • JudyBee January 15, 2010, 12:27 pm

    Lisa–You are so brave to be so honest. I’ll bet you come out of this feeling so much more whole, so much more YOU, and so much stronger. Dealing with demons is hard work. I admire you so much for this.

  • sue west January 14, 2010, 7:53 am

    Have you read Legacy of the Heart, Wayne Muller ? One quick quote…”children who were hurt as children inevitably exhibit a peculiar strength, a profound inner wisdom, and a remarkable creativity and insight. Deep within them … lies a profound spiritual vitality, a quiet knowing, a way of perceiving what is beautiful, right and true … a heightened awareness… “

    • myartfullife January 14, 2010, 10:16 am

      That is beautiful, Sue. I am not familiar with him but am headed to my local library site to see if they have any of his work. Thank you!

  • snydeen January 13, 2010, 1:31 pm

    Boy did you open a can of worms. See my blog. Essentially. Yes, I wrote a letter and ended up writing a blog entry today. It helps.

  • Robin January 13, 2010, 8:23 am

    Lisa….if I wrote about Norman, my father, we just might have an earthquake. It always amazes me how deeply we are touched and how we interpret it all. I am staying tuned to your story. Love your photos, and words. Thank you for sharing.

    • myartfullife January 13, 2010, 9:32 am

      An earthquake … that would be a tough one. Thanks for the following my story’s progress!