Beware of the arrogance of the intellect. It is tempting to spout our ideologies. We are all full of concepts that we use to be right, saved, good, and righteous. We use rationalizations to justify our poor choices or to glory in our good ones.
When you are arrogant, the writer in you will laugh and render you blank as a post. The writer in you loves a humble heart. The writer loves to see you respectfully asking for an authentic idea. The writer knows your brilliance and wants you to become intimate with your genius, but can’t help you unless you are willing to enter into a relationship with the unknown.
You can’t reach your genius through being a know-it-all. The ego has a hundred opinions to puff itself up but knows nothing through experience. As a memoirist, all you are given is what happened, and unless your writer feeds you the words to describe it, you will always be a hack.
I was humbled the first day I sat down at my desk as a writer. I had been writing for several years, but I hadn’t claimed it as a lifestyle. I got my mother to subsidize me. I bought a new typewriter, and a ream of paper. There was a hot pot of Earl Grey and my favorite mug on my desk. I sat down at 9:00 A.M. and put a blank piece of paper into my typewriter. I was going to write a play.
Within hours, I was reduced to a tearful mess. The confident woman who sat down to write that morning had vanished. Doubt, despair, dread, and fear took her place. Finally, in all humility prayed: “Please, God, Infinite Infinity, my own true self, what ever your name is, I want to be a writer. Will you please send an authentic idea?”
I had barely sat down when I had the thought, “Write a letter to Shakespeare.”
“What?” Well, it seemed authentic enough, so I began.
Dear Shakespeare, I know this sounds ridiculous, but I am writing to you to see if you have an idea for a play you didn’t use. I want with all my heart to be a writer and I haven’t the faintest idea how to be one. I need your help. With great sincerity, Cynthia
In no time, the voices began. I didn’t recognize them as voices; at first, they sounded so much like me. First came The Judge. He had a lot to say about how pathetic I was. Then came Sad and Pitiful – she was filled with condescending sympathy, kind of like my mother. I knew her too well. Then came best friends Doom and Gloom, who were terrified about the judgment of others and certain to the bone that I had no talent for writing. Then there was The Nun who thought I should go to a convent and get to know God. And last, but not least, came Sweet Seduction, who wanted to jump up and find a successful man who wrote. Her advice? “It’s much easier to marry a writer than to become one.”
I listened to the voices and wrote them down. They became the characters of my play. It was soon clear that I was writing about myself writing a play. Eventually, Shakespeare arrived and wrote a speech in Elizabethan language. The gist of it was that he had also written plays to give his voices somewhere to live so they wouldn’t ruin his life.
The name of the play was Dear Shakespeare. An actress friend of mine got a group of women to play the roles. It was my first and only foray into playwriting.
I was shown through writing Dear Shakespeare that I was not a playwright; I was a memoirist. I was not good at making things up. I had to observe what was going on in my mind and my life, then describe it. In essence, I was a scribe.
I watch my life with curiosity, knowing nothing for sure. I notice what is happening around me, then add my own memories and history – a memory of my mother, the wisdom of something I read, a client’s story, an idea from a myth or a story from a religion that describes the deeper themes of life – all the time, watching how my mind gains wisdom through gathering the threads from all these sources. This is the raw material from which I weave memoir.