Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Writing in a void

Writers crave readers -- maybe only family, maybe a small group. Writers write to share something important they have experienced. When what they are sharing is an important part of their life which is ignored or treated negatively some are crushed into silence, other continue bravely and alone. I know a great deal about being ignored, about not writing well enough, not being "interesting" or "dramatic" or "exciting" enough for the gatekeepers -- editors or agents, or, as is often the case, their assistants who are probably over burdened, overworked and, although usually very bright recent college graduates, inexperienced in life, and ignorant of mature wisdom.

I'm not thinking primarily of my own experience today, however. I met with a group of writers this morning. One was a woman I had not met before but I had heard part of her story. The other was a Vietnam vet who has previously told me part of his story. The first woman is writing a memoir, originally with the hope only of leaving record for her children and grandchildren. She was a young teen toward the end of WWII, living in Pomerania [a part of Germany near the Polish border] when the Russians came through. They rounded up many girls and women, hundreds, she said, in a concentration camp in Poland from which they planned to send them into Russia mostly to be domestic workers. She has been working on her memoir for some eight years and read a portion of it which was dramatic, told clearly without sentimentality or reticence. She had previously been in a writing class and had read earlier portions of her work. After a few weeks another person in the class complained to the teacher [really a facilitator -- I know the person. He does not teach writing having been a science teacher.] The complaint was that the other student was tired of "hearing depressing material". The facilitator asked this women to bring only cheerful work to class. She was, of course, deeply hurt and simply dropped out of the class.

The Vietnam vet who is a skilled writer and has a book about his experiences in the war that he has not been able to sell, brought in a highly skilled long poem about a certain firestorm in which he could not stop watching a butterfly. He wove a dramatic incident with the movements of the butterfly, never preaching, juxtaposing human ignorance and death with the freedom of the butterfly. It was rhythmic, strongly worded with well crafted poetic lines. He said he had written other such poems and had never had anyone with whom to share them.

Much memoir writing is mundane in both subject and presentation but, I believe, especially for people like these two who clearly care about writing well and have struggled to hone their skill, their loneliness is sad and their perseverance is heroic.

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