As threatened, I am posting the piece I’ve been working on this week during my grad class. I’d really love it if you’d take a peak at it. As usual, the formatting is a nightmare when copied and pasted, sorry.
Seminar in Non-fiction: My Naked Truth
The first day of my non-fiction writing seminar, I had a panic attack. They wanted me, a fiction writer, to write non-fiction. The very idea was preposterous. I only took the course to prove to myself that it couldn’t be done. But now that I was here, my palms started to sweat.
Instead of calming my fears, however, our dear professor only made things worse. He proclaimed, quite proudly to the class that in order to get an ‘A,’ we would first need ‘to suffer.’ Did not being able to breath constitute as suffering? By the wicked grin on my professor’s face, I deduced his reply would be a big-fat ‘no.’ Great, he was a masochist.
Here’s my problem with non-fiction: it demands the truth.
What if my truth sucked? What if it was boring? What if people didn’t like me after they heard my truth?
There wasn’t much time to ponder these questions because we were quickly given our first assignment: write a letter to someone you’ve been meaning to talk with. Well, that sounded benign enough. I could write a letter. I wrote them all the time. Less panicked, I diligently engrossed myself into said letter. My hand never left the page. And then, like a coward, I tore it up into a million little pieces.
Why would I do such a radical thing, you ask? Because, without my approval, that letter became too close. Too personal. Too much about me. I didn’t want anyone to see it, least of all the addressee. But therein, of course, lay the heart of the problem.
You see, letter was addressed to my dear friend Mary, who died last November in the most horrific of ways. She starved herself to death. On purpose.
During the two years I worked side by side with her, she never once mentioned having an eating disorder. But I knew. I knew, but I never told her to get help. Instead, I gave her constant pep talks, told her she was beautiful, to stop working out so much. Have cookie. Have another. You’re NOT FAT.
When I moved back to Maine we kept in touch through e-mail and the occasional card, but eventually those notes became spaced further apart until we lost touch. I had been naïve enough to think that this was just the normal ebb and flow of our conversations. Little did I know that when my catch-up e-mails to her went unanswered, it was because the disease had already taken control of her. It had convinced her that she was too fat. To stop eating.
So she did.
The last week of her life she landed in the hospice with her weeping husband holding her skeletal hand; feeding tubes useless against the damage the disease had already done.
When her husband called me several months later to inform me of her passing, I knew. Before he said a word I knew not only that she had died, but what had killed her. I listened in stunned silence as he told me of her last days. This was my fault. I had let her down. I was the friend could always cheer her up in the past and because I didn’t make keeping our friendship a priority. I’d let her slip away and leave us all behind.
When I hung up with him, I felt numb. Confused and angry. I didn’t know how to process what I’d just heard. So I sat down at my computer and wrote a fictionalized story about her death from the perspective of her husband in her last hours. I typed through my tears and my guilt and may have actually shouted at the screen at one point. But I needed to write it. Needed to get the guilt out of my head and transfer it someplace where it couldn’t hurt me anymore.
The second I typed the final period of that story, I posted it to my blog—raw and unedited. My viral scream to her for what she had done to her husband.
But it wasn’t until I wrote that damn letter, that I realized how angry I actually was with her. At her selfishness. How dare she do this to me?
See now why I tore the letter up? Not such a pretty truth.
Here it was, mere hours into the week, and already I was a basket case. Surely now I had earned my ‘A’?
Alas, my humble professor’s shook his head as if to say: ‘No. Not yet. There’s more I want you to see.’
Awesome. Alright, I can handle pain. I’d had two kids. Without drugs. Bring it on.
Of course, Karma heard me say that. Our next assignment was a doozy. We had to write a poem about where we came from. A POEM.
Shut the front door.
I’m not a poet! I signed up for a non-fiction class, not a poetry class! I’m not even a teacher like they are! It’s alright, Danielle, just breathe. We’ll get through this.
At least, I consoled myself, there was a model to go by. Too bad the model turned out to be this:
Where I’m From
George Ella Lyons
I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.
Really? I’m supposed to write something, like that? You have got to be out of your ever-loving-mind.
But I sat down, journal in hand, pencil at the ready and I stumbled forward.
Writing then erasing.
Typing then deleting.
Thinking then ignoring.
Daring, and then sharing.
Until finally, finally this work in progress of a poem came into being.
I am from gussied-up trailer-trash
Second-hand smoke, third-hand clothes
and first-hand knowledge
I am from the Penobscot nation
my pale skin, but not my poverty,
betrays the station
I am from mac and cheese in a box
And congealed, slimy meat oozing from its can
I am from toothless carnies with feathered hair
and torn up jeans
not bought, but earned
I am from the land of MTV
Where princes rock music
instead of my world
I am from the stage—
My safe-haven, my altar
The outlet I craved before the page
I am from the 19 pills that I swallow
For arthritis to colitis
And the fatigue that follows
I am from my stretch marked breasts
and done-lap gut–
my uber wide thunder thighs
But, today, right now, I am from the pen
that takes this discombobulated mess inside
And lets you, dear reader, along for the ride
*Inspired by George Ella Lyon’s poem I Am From
Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. I did it. The fiction writer in me said I wouldn’t be able to survive this course and hid behind self-deprecation and fear. But the WRITER in me wouldn’t take my bullshit excuses and turned my suffering into art. With or without that damn A.