CNF 500: Write Your PartBy Erika Kleinman
September 29, 2014
A friend of mine emailed me recently to ask for help with a personal essay. It was a short piece about how all the great stories seem to be about doing heroin or cheating on your spouse.
She’s not imagining that. There are some great stories out there about doing heroin and cheating on your spouse.
The piece reminded me of certain “envy essays” I’ve seen around on writer’s blogs, The New York Times, and in interviews. “I’m so jealous of Lena Dunham/Cat Marnell/Cheryl Strayed.” Very talented and determined people have these feelings.
Luckily, writing is not a fight to the death. There’s room for your stories. Heroin is not the story. It’s the human experience. It’s the fall, and the recovery from the fall. It’s recognizing that you did those things, but you are not those things that you did. And we all have those stories.
What is being framed as “jealousy” and “why her, not me?” is really admiration. We admire Lena Dunham for having the stones to produce and direct a show that is so honest, so real, and so fucking hilarious. We admire Cheryl Strayed for laying her soul bare on the page, shamelessly, emotionally. We admire her for turning an advice column into a human, stunning art.
We admire them for getting past the guard in their heads and for being fearless.
It’s amazing to me how many people are afraid to admit that they have ambitions. “I don’t need to write a best-seller,” people say. “I would be happy to publish it, even if no one reads it.” So we ask to write a book that no one will read. Why not write a best-seller? That may not be the original intent (and maybe shouldn’t be), but why not a best-seller? Why not you?
Every morning, I walk with my daughter to our neighborhood school, about a mile away. She rides her bike and waits at the end of each street.
When we lived in Costa Rica, we would walk to the school two miles away. Bright and broad Blue Morpho butterflies fluttered in and out of our path every day. The trees were green and lush. Orchids grew like weeds. Sometimes, we’d see white-faced Capuchin monkeys, shaking branches at us. She would run ahead, then wait for me. She’d say, “Our shadows are touching, even though we’re not.”
When we walk in Austin, we see beige houses, hackberry trees. Lawns both wild and manicured. There’s an orange tabby cat that crosses the street every day. My daughter wants to race, wants to feel wind in her hair. When she stops, we talk about how we would destroy monsters if they appeared. “I’d punch them in the eyes until their eyeballs turned into liquid. Then I’d tear off their ears and stomp on their heads.” She laughs.
We’re not in a cloud forest, but she’s here. I’m here. We’re telling each other stories, and it doesn’t matter where we are. It’s our voices that matter.
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