After a lengthy and complicated hiatus, I’m back to revising my novel, writing stories, and writing essays. Writing makes me feel like I’m okay again. Really okay. Even thriving. I’ve a number of pieces due out in publications over the next few months, and I’m very excited that they will be out in the world. All of them were accepted for publication in the past year, but some of the pieces were written years ago, while others were written a few weeks ago. I’m always baffled and delighted at the unique journey my work takes to find literary homes.
I’m particularly nervous about a Creative Nonfiction piece to be published within the next 8 weeks. (I will not name the publication for now, as I’m afraid of jinxing things). The essay is about my complicated relationship with the herb mint–as it pertains to trauma in my life, including intimate partner rape, of which I’m a survivor. So there’s that–the nature of the essay itself is very personal and makes me feel vulnerable. But that’s par for the course as a writer.
But then there’s the matter of permission when it comes to memoir.
There is a lot of negotiation in the realm of CNF/memoir. Your art. Their lives. Their wellbeing. Your wellbeing.
There are those of the camp that say if people inflicted crap upon you, that them’s the breaks. And there are those of the camp that say not to hurt anyone further. There are people in my life who refuse to let me write about them. And then there are people in my life who know that experiences with them will find their way into my art.
The boyfriend in the essay and I have kept in touch over the years–it’s been important to him that I remain his friend, and he recently reached out to me to share a fact that enlightened me on the matter of what happened the night he raped me.
This is a boyfriend who supported my writing more than any other. He urged me to write. We were not a compatible couple, and as a result, there were many sparks and disconnects. He is possibly the boyfriend with whom I felt the most alienated. But he loved that I wrote, before I even became a writer. He gave me a subscription to ZYZZYVA, which ended up being the only litmag about which I knew, which was therefore the only litmag to which I sent my first short story, which was where my first story was published.
But this is a boyfriend who had his demons. I had my own personal demons, too. And the two of us didn’t mesh well.
I wrote an essay about what he did. I’ve written about him before. I don’t use his name, but in many ways, I sold him out, particularly in this upcoming essay. And it weighed on me heavily. I didn’t let it weigh on me while I wrote it–in fact, I censored myself zero, but when my essay was done, I wondered about the ramifications of such a piece. I knew I loved the essay–because when i finished writing it, I was practically panting with exertion.
There was no way I was going to let this essay sit and gather dust.
It took me awhile after finishing the essay and having it accepted for publication to write him. I wasn’t even sure I would tell him about the piece, but I ultimately decided to give him a heads up. I didn’t need or want his permission, but I did want to give him the courtesy of letting him know I’d written something very dark about his behavior. I wrote:
“So. I wrote an essay. And it’s going to be published. I am not sure you will be happy about it, but I did not name names and no one will know it’s about you I wrote. I am pretty sure it will make you angry, though.
But it came out the way it came out. And I can give you a sneak preview as a courtesy. Should be published within the next 8 weeks. Under my new pen name.”
I waited for a response.
And I’m a lucky writer–because he said he fully supports me and including my life experiences in my art. I was spared grappling with his resentment.
There’s the thing he did to me.
And then there’s the thing he did for me.
Now on to other facets of my life that have lived long under the covers and must come out for air. I doubt I’ll have everyone’s blessing, but this is a start. And yes, I’m thinking my next project (after this novel) is a memoir.
UPDATE: The aforementioned essay, is up on The Rumpus. “MINT” is about my complicated relationship with mint and its relevance to traumas.