I’m delighted to have an essay in the debut issue of Lunch Ticket, the new literary journal of the Antioch University Los Angeles MFA program.
It’s actually an essay I wrote several years ago (how strange, like an artifact, to return to work from so long ago!) I sat on it for years. The essay centers on the relationship I have with my father – or one moment of that relationship.
Joan Didion once said, “writers are always selling somebody out.”
That’s a hard concept to wrestle with – or to admit. Is it true?
When I write fiction, I don’t have to worry too much about other people’s feelings; I imagine new characters. With nonfiction, I have tended to talk mainly about myself – tell my story, so as not to involve those who may not want to appear on the page.
The problem, of course, is that my story is very much tied up with other people. Our connections matter. To me, relationships are what make life.
So how do I tell my story without ever talking about the people who help shape it?
When I lived in New York, I used to write in a claustrophobic closet in my dad’s apartment. It was packed high with boxes: dark, windowless. It was actually quite a productive space for me – something about its cramped, unappealing nature made me focus intensely on the work.
When I left for Paris in my romantic flurry, I left reams of paper behind – unfinished drafts, scribbles, experiments. While cleaning out the closet one day, my dad must have found this essay. It was four years after the fact but it prompted one of the best conversations we’ve ever had. “I don’t know when you wrote that,” he said, “but I think our relationship started getting better after that.”
I think he’s right. I think just the act of writing helped me in some way, made me change, even subconsciously, my behavior. And then, even better, the act of sharing it (even if accidentally!) opened new pathways to communication.
But to share it more widely?
I’m not sure if writers need to ask permission. This is what we do. Write. But for me, I knew I had to ask my dad if he felt comfortable with me seeking publication for it. I’m a sensitive person and I try to be sensitive to others, too. He said even though he’s a private person that I should share it. My writing was for the world.
And this is another one of those gifts for which I am grateful. My parents support my efforts. I have never felt pressure from them to live up to any sort of preordained expectations. My path has been quite nonlinear so far; I have not made the most conventional choices. But if I’m seeking with truth, that’s all that seems to matter to them.
Write what you must, they both said. Go forth with our blessing.
Not everyone is so lucky, I know.
I hope in some way I capture what I believe: we are all flawed and beautiful. Imperfect and amazing.
Thanks for reading, this essay and always.