Archive | June, 2018

Heavy Heart

29 Jun

I was listening to Fresh Air on NPR this morning. Terry Gross was interviewing W. Kamau Bell, the comic who has that show on HBO and a stand up called Private School Negro coming out on Netflix. He talked about a lot of stuff, doing, his parents, who were never married, split when he was a baby and both reared him; his meeting with Anthony Bourdain and their few encounters, one of which was spent in Kenya drinking gin and tonics.

Bell was moved in many ways by Bourdain–that Bourdain had been so warm to him (a self-described “nobody”) and that Bourdain was known for “not suffering fools. “He either loved you or ignored you,” Bell said in the interview. He got choked up when he talked about Bourdain’s light and that Bell could discern light being turned on.  Gross asked him if he’d been surprised that Bourdain had killed himself; Bell thought for a moment and said he didn’t know him well enough to be able to comment, but that even with that light, he did sense that Bourdain possessed a heavy heart.

I was struck by this characterization. I didn’t know Bourdain at all, I didn’t even watch his show, but like so many I was so saddened by his death struck that it would plunge me into my own sad hell. My sense of Bourdain and Bell’s description of him bore out my instinct of him, my attraction–that he felt very deeply as I do.

It’s very uncomfortable to admit that I understand how ending one’s life could happen, how the scaffolding holding you up just wears down. I am not suicidal, however when I heard comments from people who say suicide is cowardly or selfish or “he had so much,” or “she was rich” as I heard people say about Kate Spade, my back goes up. No one and I mean no one knows how it feels under another person’s skin.  On top of Bourdain’s heaviness, all that traveling is exhausting and as many have said and lonely.

When my memoir, Welcome to My Breakdown came out a few years ago, where I wrote about my grief at losing my mom and my depression, many people who know me said to me they were shocked to learn that I had depressive episodes. One woman, a therapist friend of a friend said, “what do you have to be sad about?” She caught herself and mumbled something contrary. I didn’t get upset. I understood that she’d only seen my light. It appears I don’t produce enough dopamine, a recent gratefully received an explanation. But I think given who I am as a writer, an HSP, an empath, who possess a heavy heart, I would have suffered a little sadness around the edges anyway. I know I have to take care of myself: Rest, have some solitude, be with my kids and husband, spend time with friends who are real, loving, accepting of my faults and theirs. People who are willing to do the work on themselves, not just other people.

I was listening to the interview while walking my dog in the park. Oftentimes I walk with a group. Today I was alone and sometimes when my dog friends aren’t there I get a little sad. Today, I was happy to be able to listen without distraction.

I was glad to be able to turn over the phrase heavy heart and put it in the context on my own disposition. It made assuaged my understanding of why his death hit me so hard.

Bourdain, whose June 25th birthday is 12 days before mine.

He was creative, loving, honest, heavy-hearted, an HSP. He was one of us.







Teaching Memoir

12 Jun

Every Tuesday morning from 10 to noon I teach a memoir writing workshop. My class is a group of 11 grown women. Grown meaning they’re aged the early 40s to 80 and they’ve seen some things. The class has shifted and grown over the years from about 4 to 5 students–including the occasional male and non-cisgender– to a steady maximum capacity. The table comfortably seats 12.

I love teaching memoir.

I love doing it in a way I’ve never loved work before. Even in my longed-for career as a full-time author, there’s plenty that I don’t like: the unrelenting, necessary aloneness, being both labor and management, listening to my inner critic yapping like a terrier, and critics. I do love having written. Back when I was writing fiction exclusively and steadily, I used to love to get revision letters from my then editor, the wonderful Dominick Anfuso. I do realize these are First World problems.

But this is the only “work” I’ve ever done that I love doing without reservation.

With each term, I grow attached to my students and my stalwarts who’ve been with me for a few years hold a cherished space in my life.

I’ve taught writing at colleges and while there were parts that I like and certainly students of whom I became very fond, I didn’t love it. I hated grading papers and even more so dealing with the pushback from the rare student, about grades.

I’m rarely so clear about anything, which is why I ‘ve been trying to understand what is it about this that I love doing this so much. I think it’s simply that what they’re writing about is their souls, their passions, heartbreaks, desires, despairs. Life. I get to listen, scribble while they’re reading and feel and convert feelings into words, to tell them what I hear that isn’t on the page. I get to be moved, engaged, humored, to testify. I love helping them find the key and then, eventually, to turn the lock to what’s really in their hearts, on their minds; what the piece is actually about. I don’t always know what that is, but I usually know what questions to ask to help them find it. I get to play shrink, to dissect emotions and psyches, which I love more than anything.  I love hearing them help each other with their thoughtful critiques. I love that I’ve created the space for them to feel safe.

I get to help people construct their pathos and their joys into poetry, into a symphony into rhythm and blues.

After class today one of my students, a poet, told me she loves the class because we talk from our hearts. Yep, that’s it. Heart talk. Heart writing. Heart work. I’m in that heart space and it’s exactly the neighborhood where I want to live.