This is a review of an editorial by Laura Moe on the Creative Nonfiction website Issue #12, 1999. The article is titled, “About the Author: Leaf Seligman”. I found each paragraph quotable and this led me to change my thoughts for the day and write about this article.
Leaf Seligman: The very best creative nonfiction tells us about stuff we never would have known about. This quote grabbed me because I am used to having my own true life commentaries interrupted by those who state the obvious. There will always be greater and lesser, it goes without saying, so why should I be preempted because someone else has story that is more extreme or tragic than my own current dilemma? The answer is that people want attention. All of us want attention. But the antidote to loneliness isn’t talking about yourself. Listen!
Leaf Seligman: We all have stories in us that need to be written, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be read. This one threw me for a loop. At first, I wondered if this was just rhetorical language but I need to give it a chance. If her words are taken at face value with no interpolation or assumptions, what could possibly need to be recorded for posterity but not ever read by anyone? I’m thinking it is the thing we want most forgotten but which must be forever remembered. The thing that broke us, hurt us, made us give up all hope. Of course if we are still able to write about them then we were not broken but mended, not hurt but helped, not forsaken but saved. These are the things that need to be written down for posterity but we might reluctantly read for fear of an emotional unwrap.
You can’t make art out of pain on the same day. I thought about this one. When you are savoring the fruits of survival on a breezy overlook with a cool drink and a fresh friend, these are not the result of wise choices or great luck. There is an old-you that died and decayed and descended and you have grown out of that death and decomposition. Hallelujah! That overlook would not be possible without the underworld of terror you went through in your transformation from lost lamb to reigning ram. Know that every lost pursuit had a foundering purpose and that the person you were pursuing will eventually be the person you will become – if you remember your path.
If you want to be a better prose writer, write as much poetry as you can, and likewise. I like this because I like poetry. Well, aphorisms and lyrics and rhymes. No one has accused me of writing legitimate poetry but there are people who wish I would stop. Sometimes I take a thought or a thought from a poem, and expand it in a poetic many. For me this is a way to get to the essence of the thought. Once I have arrive at an essence that rings true to my sentiments, then I can go back an work on the prose the will expand and detail it. Give it life here on earth in simple words that began with ethereal poetry.
All that matters is… how you remember it. OK, another tough one. This quote, I think, has to do with what reality taught you, not what reality did. Can you feel me? It doesn’t matter whether your midget race car was red with white wheels or white with red wheels, but it does matter that you raced until you eighty pounds too heavy to fit into the cockpit and that you met your first love at the race track and when you both outgrew your individual cockpits you fell out of those stressed and straining vehicles and fell into each others groping and grasping arms. Falling in love always involves a falling out if your life is at all on track.
Sometimes it takes other people to tell you what your writing is about. Amen here. I have been perfectly thrilled with my writing until a barely attentive writing group pointed out that I had used all three tense in three consecutive sentences. That I had head-hopped to the extent no knew who killed, screwed, lied to who. That my subtext had taken my readers to a very different place than I intended – a very disturbing and disgusting place which said more about me than I wanted to know. Have someone look at your stuff, not just for grammar, but for lucidity. Trust me on this. Don’t listen to the rare geniuses who don’t need editors.
I would not have gotten better as a writer without people saying “Ok, Leaf this does work, but this doesn’t.” Again, genuine criticism is gold. It goes without saying that quick criticism is almost always interpolation if not jealousy. If the criticism rings true, put it in your pocket. If it wrings you, tell them to stuff it.
“When I read my early work, I realize they were really broth, not stew. It’s really humbling and gratifying to reread something six months later and see how you could make it better.” I with her. So was Shakespeare. Taking something that was already written in the past and making it better is almost guaranteed. You have matured and learned and perfected. Look back and do the same for your prose.
“Whatever is most pressing will scratch at the door and it will tell you when to let it in, and out. Write what compels you most and find the time and space to do it. Make everything you write a love letter to the world.” Ain’t that the truth. Someone’s scratching at your door? Creative Nonfiction? Someone’s ringin’ your bell? Absurdism? Do me a favor. Let ’em in.