Let the revolutionary self speak

by Kyoko Ide

Revolution. I feel such resistance towards it. Why?

I feel fear, I get tense, I feel like I have to find the right, proper words and expressions that wouldn’t offend anybody, so that my revolutionary self wouldn’t get criticized. But that’s not revolutionary at all. How come I feel like I have to protect myself and guard myself when I try to let my revolutionary self speak?

I have been always cautious not to offend anybody: Don’t offend anybody. Read the air. Read the atmosphere. Read other people’s minds. Keep the harmony. Don’t stick out. Tie your hair. Wear your uniform. (The ruler in the teacher’s hand that measured the length of the hem of my skirt.)

Keep your head down. Don’t speak up when your grandma speaks; she doesn’t want to be bothered by little kids; you have no right to speak up at the dinner table, you should just listen and nod quietly.

My mom told me she regretted that she didn’t let me speak up at the dinner table.

“Why didn’t I let you speak up? You were little and you had so many original, creative, incredible things to say, and I forced you to shut yourself up, because I feared your grandmother. I didn’t want to upset her. But who cares? Why didn’t I let you speak up? I should’ve let you speak up. I should’ve told your grandmother, ‘Excuse me, but now my daughter is speaking, could you shut your mouth and listen to her, please?'”

Why have I been silent? Why did I not say anything? What for? What was I afraid of? Where has been my revolutionary self? Why has she been so silent? Why has she been hiding? Why was she smiling, when she wasn’t smiling at all inside? Why did I keep silent?

My grandma’s dead. Then my mom’s dead. The teachers are gone. My father is old. What am I afraid of? Why do I have to keep my head down?

Where’s my revolutionary self — that wants to scream? That wants to stand up. That wants to walk ahead. That wants to turn the light on. That wants to pour the water and wash it all out. That wants to swipe it all. That wants to open her eyes and look them straight into the eyes.

Where is she? She is here. She has been hiding way too long. And she says: “Basta. I’ve had enough.” I’ve been listening and listening and listening and not saying anything. Nodding. Smiling. “Yes, yes.” “Sì, sì.” “Ho capito.” “Hai ragione.” “Sugoi desune.”

How wonderful! Basta, basta. I have something to say, too. I have a lot to say. I want to speak up. In any language. In Japanese. In my dialect. In English. In Italiano. Whatever.

I learned and learned and learned the languages; now I should actually use them. Stop nodding. Say something. Just say it. Say it loud. Don’t be silent.

I’m alive now. I won’t be alive forever. Death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain. I’ve got to say something.

Let us speak. Let us all speak. Let my sister speak, who is so afraid to speak. Let my friend speak, with her voice that is so free when she’s speaking to me. We have been speaking behind the walls. In the tiny Skype windows. In the car, when we were sure nobody was listening. In the kitchen, when the kids and the husband were not there. Behind the closed door, after we made sure it was locked, looking at the clock.

Let us be free from the darkness, the dense air that doesn’t circulate, the bad lighting, and the cold floor. Let us open the windows, unlock the door, turn the knob and open wide the door, let the air come in, let us swim in the sunshine. Let us say it all out loud. Let us show who we are.


[Note: This Voices from the Workshop World first-draft text was produced live in Cary Tennis’s Online International writing workshop. The goal of this Voices series is to showcase the literary productions that arise from these online Amherst Writers and Artists workshops, which are designed to maximize verbal creativity in order to free the expressive energy of all the world’s people.–Cary Tennis]

Let the revolutionary self speak

The world turns, and as it turns, people who could once keep to their feet and balance their weight against the motion, who learned to drink and dance and cook a meal while effortlessly poised against the turning of the world, these people suddenly found themselves thrown down to the ground, their plates and cups dashed from their hands, their feet hopelessly tangled, their heads broken and their limbs crushed. And those who lived began to ask themselves, as they fought to hang on to the violently-turning world, what has happened to the Earth’s rotation? Why do nights and days now flash by at such a speed? Why must we live with this awful perpetual motion, and why must we feel nauseous, and nurse injuries, and constantly risk our lives to cling onto the world by the very tips of our fingers?
They had little time to think about this problem, as daily life had become such a struggle for existence, and it was as much as they could do to keep body and soul together, let alone ponder big philosophical questions about the turning of the Earth. But they still did think about them, whenever they could gain a little rest and relief from their battle to hang on to the spinning world, for such is the nature of people. So one of their number said: “The rotation of the Earth has become so much faster because it suits the needs of a few rich men that it should be so. Never mind the fact that most of us are caused such discomfort, and that our friends and family and our neighbours have fallen off altogether, or become so sick and dizzy that they despaired and let go, or perished under the weight of heavy objects that have been displaced.”
Another said: “The trees are being uprooted and the atmosphere stripped away and the tides are too high and the land is flooded. The rich men do not care, for they can afford to live in special compounds that are protected from all the ill effects. But there are few of them and many of us. Why do we not demand that the Earth is slowed down to rotate once in 24 hours again? Then we can think of ways to repair the damage the rich men have done.” But one poor citizen who had suffered grave losses, and who was deeply scarred with old injuries from rolling objects, said: “Perhaps it is much better that the Earth should turn quickly. It is progress and progress cannot be argued with. And the wealthy men must surely be wise, or why would they have been blessed with wealth?”
Another spoke up: “If we do not accept that the Earth must spin nearly out of control, the rich men will give us no work, and if they cannot earn such vast wealth then surely we will all be poor. And if we do not hurtle through space at this frantic rate then we will be overtaken by other, faster planets who will rush around the sun much more quickly than we can, and they will steal our rightful warmth and light. And the rich men will label us ‘anti-revolutionists’ and all the world’s ills will be laid at our door. No, comrades, it is better that we should suffer in silence and continue to try to hang on until our luck changes and, perhaps by some miracle, we can join the ranks of the rich men.”
And so they did not try to right the wrong that had been done to the Earth and all its people. They lowered their heads and continued with their daily struggles as best they might. Until one day the Earth began to spin so fast that nothing could stop it. The last trees were uprooted, and the seas overran the land, and the atmosphere was stripped away, and the planet hurtled headlong out of the solar system and rolled away into deepest outer space.


[Note: This Voices from the Workshop World first-draft text was produced live in Cary Tennis’s Online International writing workshop. The goal of this Voices series is to showcase the literary productions that arise from these online Amherst Writers and Artists workshops, which are designed to maximize verbal creativity in order to free the expressive energy of all the world’s people.–Cary Tennis]

OnlineWorkshopAd_generic
Newsletter_NEW_Dec13

Our person of the week: Lucy Hilmer

Lucy Hilmer has been a regular at Cary’s writing practice table at Café La Boheme in San Francisco, for the past 2 ½ years. Lucy is a fine art photographer, documentary filmmaker and poet, who spends most of her time working alone in her home studio. But every Friday at noon, she heads to the Mission to sit with Cary’s pop up community of creative people for an hour, where she and others fast write from prompts, and read aloud the instant trajectories of their free flowing imaginations. Writing with Cary at Café La Boheme has given Lucy — a self-described hermit/artist — a place she can count on for community and creative risk taking with others.

My Valentines BOOK COVERWe are please to recommend Lucy’s first photo book, MY VALENTINES, 21 Years of Portraits From The Family Album. It is a gift for all seasons, but especially appropriate for gift giving on Valentine’s Day. Here is the link to Lucy’s website, where it can be purchased.

For more than 40 years, Lucy has photographed, at regular intervals, the ever-changing lives of herself, her family, and friends, creating multiple, B&W series-in-time, which she is currently funneling into a trilogy of photo books with short, companion piece films.

For 21 years, the time it takes to bring up a child, Lucy made an annual portrait of her daughter, always in relationship to a rose and some abstracted portion of her black-sweatered dad. These classic, B&W portraits were then mailed out as Valentine Postcards to everyone her family ever knew or met. “Annie Cards” travelled all over the world to be archived in albums, stuck on refrigerator doors, pinned on bulletin boards in all sorts of offices— and now, they are available to you in this beautifully printed and produced book, which tracks the life a child growing from a 3-day-old infant to a 21-year-old woman who has come of age.

Annie Valentine Card 1993


Cary's Writing Retreat in Chester, CT

Can I write and publish this book?

Dear Cary,

What a delight that you are continuing. Bravo!  The quality of the world dipped there for a moment, but now it is leveled up again, thank, goodness. I’ll be sure to do my part to spread the word so that everyone I know can enjoy your column.

On another note, I do want to ask you a few related questions about my writing. Some background: On a deep and sweet level, I am an artist–singing, composing, writing, playing. This artistry was supplanted seven years ago when I discovered the intense pleasure of teaching and facilitating personal growth during a five minute segment I was asked to teach in a personal growth class in which I was assisting. That kind of activism attracted me.

To be part of the solution, rather than a complainer, I wrote a roughly 400-page book six years ago by sitting down every morning, remembering my divine nature and writing what came of that. It was an incandescent journey, saving me while I was going through a total financial meltdown. (Real estate; says it all, doesn’t it?)

To my bafflement and distress, I was unable to pull the book together into one coherent entity. I had 57 short chapters and no single through-line, no simple overarching context.

I tried to cobble the chapters together, writing segues. But each attempt seemed to destroy what I had already written.

I hired an editor. After viewing the first chapter, I decided not to continue. She had no better luck than me; it seemed her efforts, as mine before, were extinguishing the light in a text conceived during, what felt like, illuminated moments. I decided to set the book aside.

Last Wednesday evening, a dear close friend, a horror writer, of all genres (!) suggested I frame the book as a collection of essays. This has sparked a little hope.

I am currently reading an exquisite book, When Women Were Birds, by Terry Tempest Williams, who is an artist, teacher and writer. This book seems a little outside of the usual and expected in every way. In how she circles back to a theme; that there is more than one; format changes; images of a bird in the margins that “flies” when you let the pages run through your fingers. The non-conformity is subtle but adds up to something unique and genuine, even pure, perhaps.

And here are my questions: If I let myself be encouraged and inspired by Ms. Tempest Williams’ example, being unknown and untried, do I have a candle in the wind’s chance of appealing to a publisher? Would it be tantamount to a pointless labor of love? Should I stick with the recommended approaches that have been suggested in How to Get Published workshops?

And secondly, from your perspective, is wanting to be widely read an “evil” I should shed, or is that a legitimate consideration? As an artist, I feel that the work is its own raison d’être. But as an activist, I don’t see the point in writing something my five closest friends will read.

I am so looking forward to your thoughts.

Blessings,

Writing from the Heart

Dear Writing from the Heart,

Of course you can write and publish a book. Whether you actually do it will depend on whether you are willing to put in the time and effort.

Right now you sound like you are not exactly sure if you want to do it badly enough to devote your life to it. It’s best to assess that possibility now, before undertaking what could be a long and painful journey. It doesn’t take just time and effort. It takes unexpected personal sacrifice. You say you do not want to write the book unless many people are going to read it, but you cannot force people to fall in love with your book and recommend it to their friends. All you can do is devote your life to writing it well and seeing that it is published, and then do everything you can to bring it to people’s attention.

Here are some of the difficulties you may encounter along the way.

You may have to guess, from a sentence or two from a professional editor, what actually has to be done in concrete terms to fix a problem in the manuscript, and then try several different approaches to the same problem — writing the same paragraph, or same chapter, over and over, not knowing when you might hit on the solution. Then, after doing that, you might find that the solution actually lies elsewhere. Such frustrations are common, and there is no clear way to eliminate them, because the material has its own secrets.  But if you are willing and able to endure such frustrations, then of course you can publish a book.

You may have to listen to and take advice from people you don’t like, people who seem arrogant and short-tempered and dismissive. The book business has such people, and their knowledge is valuable. If you can learn from them and not dismiss them, then of course you can write and publish a book.

You may need to acquire certain traits, skills, knowledge and sensibility. It might be necessary to spend a few years reading all the books you can find, thinking and taking notes and studying the inner workings of sentences. Yes, sentences. You might have to change in certain fundamental ways how you perceive units of meaning, how you structure your thought. This can be hard, especially after the university years. But if you can do that then of course you can publish a book.

You may discover what you are saying has already been said by geniuses, in clear, evocative, compelling language. How then will you persuade an editor or agent who has read most everything and is not easily amused that what you have written is relevant and important and moving and salable? How will you recast your insights to apply to specific people in our time? Will you be willing to take the time to solve this problem, coming up with flawed solution after flawed solution until you find one that is uniquely suited to your style and your time? If so, then of course you can publish a book.

Experts can point out the flaws in your manuscript, and people like me can cheer you on, but you will eventually meet your own shortcomings, your own darkness, and you will be alone with your insufficiency. Writing and publishing a book may require you to face a kind of spiritual desolation you had not counted on as part of the price. But if you are willing and able to go through those things, then of course you can publish a book.

If your life is such that distractions arise, or if disappointments set you back, or if you do not know how to continue writing after you have lost interest and do not feel inspired, or if you are not able to differentiate between when your sentences are clear and when they are muddied, or if you do not know what kinds of linguistic phenomena offend cultured and sophisticated readers, or how long the average attention span is, or how the brain works when it reads, or how to create tension on the page, then of course it may take longer than expected. But of course you can write and publish a book.

Writing talent is just part of what is required. Can you motivate yourself to learn difficult new skills; can you manage your own emotions over a long period of time; can you bounce back from rejection; can you creatively solve problems; can you find the money to hire professionals when needed?

The difficulties are not insurmountable. They are merely huge.

Assuming you have the resources, you could begin today. You could begin by finding a careful, experienced nonfiction book editor currently in the business who would read the book and tell you all the things you would have to do to make it marketable. You would have to commit to that process. If it was unpleasant hearing these remarks, then you would have to sift through the unpleasantness, seeking to know what was unpleasant because it challenged a false assumption you had, and what was unpleasant because it failed to address your true intent. Having worked through that, you could come up with a plan for how to address each perceived shortcoming in the manuscript.

Then you could hire a coach and/or editor to keep you on track and coach you along the way.

I suggest you spend the next few days or weeks on this one essential question: Is this something that I must do, that I am driven to do, for which I am willing to make any sort of sacrifice?

Thank you for the Yelps!

I just checked out our Yelp reviews today and I am honored and grateful for all the really thoughtful, funny and kind reviews we received. Here are a few of my favorite outtakes:

“I still don’t understand exactly how it works, but every Wednesday evening, when I’m tired from the day, not feeling particular creative or even enthusiastic, I sit down to write with Cary and the group and somehow – I don’t know how – within 2 hours we have all created the most unique, incredible, original work.”

“Everyone who comes through the door is treated as a writer, and all voices, levels of experience and styles are welcomed.”

“Cary helped me get my very first story published in a real magazine! He’s the best.”

“if he asked I might give him a kidney. The man is a brilliant muse.”

“If I were a poodle, nothing would make me prouder than to take care of Cary and Norma.”

Here’s the link if you’d like to read the actual reviews. Thanks again. We couldn’t keep this going without such generous and talented people in our lives.