Something No One Can Tell You Is Wrong

I was listening to a recording of a discussion with Sandra Cisneros and John Phillip Santos today, and Sandra Cisneros was asked what insired her to write The House on Mango Street. She gave an amazing response that I will attempt to paraphrase.

It all started when she was attending the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. She went for peotry and claimed she had no idea how famous or prestigious the school was. A teacher just urged her to apply, and she got in, so she went.

Once she was there, she began to feel out of place because she wasn’t as privileged as the other people in the workshops with her. She began to feel ashamed as they discussed houses and she realized that everyone had vacation homes in Europe, etc. and didn’t know the kind of one room flat that she was reminded of when she thought of houses that she would want to write about.

She locked herself in her room for days, until the shame turned into an anger that she channeled into her writing. She wanted to get back at the “barracudas” in her workshop that told her everything she wrote was wrong.

Then she decided to write something that no one could tell her was wrong. She wrote about the houses she remembered. The houses only she could describe. And she blended her poetry and prose, creating a niche where she couldn’t find one before. And out of this writing that she did for herself, not for the workshop, The House on Mango Street was born.

I thought that was an awesome way of looking at a workshop, or at writing in general, as a chance to write something that no one can tell you is wrong, because it is so uniquely yours. Your point of view, your words.

In workshops there is so much emphasis on your point of view, voice, perspective, whatever. This thing that is so yours, no one can tell you it’s wrong. Sandra Cisnero’s view really helped me to look at this in a new way by making something so abstract into something visceral and tangible.

From now on I’m only going to write what no one can tell me is wrong. Thanks Sandra.

Breaking the Silence

Lately I’ve had so much on my mind that I have been avoiding music. Even in my car, the place I always listen to music, it just feels overwhelming, so I’ve been driving in silence to have some time to think.

Then yesterday, on campus, I heard birds singing and it made me think about how profound song is. All art really, but music is so beautiful, and in a way, more instinctual than other forms of art. I mean, birds sing, but I’ve never heard of a dolphin picking up a pen in it’s hands and composing a novel, or a hippo fingerpainting an impressionistic masterpiece.

Music is so beautiful and instantly, intrinsically moving.

And tonight I was reminded of how essential music is. I hadn’t been to a concert in a while, but I happened to notice that one of my favorite bands, Girlyman, was playing in Alexandria, so I went to see them tonight.
They were amazing. Apparently Doris, one of the amazing vocalists, was diagnosed with Leukemia recently, and the band almost fell apart. While she was sick, another band member, Nate, wrote a song about isolation, that gave Doris strength when she was alone in the hospital while the rest of the band was touring. (she’s made a miraculous, almost complete recovery since).

She sang the song, “Supernova.” It was such a beautiful experience to hear the song for the first time, right after hearing her amazing story. I haven’t been moved like that by anything in a long time.

Another standout was the song “This is Me,” from their album “Little Star.” I listened to this album a lot when I was writing a story about a girl who found herself struggling to make a similar proclomation. The song brought me right back to that feeling, the feeling of making those simple words into something powerful and profound. “This is me,” everything good and bad, the brilliance and the shit, that’s just what I am. It’s so blunt and honest.

Needless to say, I will be filling my computer, my phone, and my car with lots of music this weekend (Girlyman and other).

To Write Perchance to Sleep

It’s late and I can’t sleep. It’s so late it’s early.

My body is exhausted but my brain is like a little kid that wants to stay up and play. So play I did. I started writing a new story, The idea’s been kicking around in my brain for a while, but what with school and life and everything in between I didn’t have time to start it.

I feel like this story is a huge breakthrough for me. I really hope that I can push it to the wildest edge of edges and that it will drive me there. I have a good feeling that it will. It’s not the naive, pretentious crap that I used to write, and its not the forced pretentious crap I’ve tried to write since starting the MFA program. It’s just real and uncensored and just better and more genuine than anything I’ve written in a long time. Probably ever.

It’s funny because it’s basically a story that’s been dying to get out of me ever since I was 15. And I kept avoiding it to write about things I felt like I should be writing about. Well, apparently it was time to tell the story, so my brain went on sleep strike and made me start writing it now. I’m gonna be so exhausted tomorrow during my 12+ hour day, but because of the writing, I’m gonna be in a good mood despite being barely functional.

Thank God for writing!