Inspiration: “Everything is a self-portrait. A diary.”

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I’m exhausted. Mentally exhausted. From reading this book: Diary, Chuck Palahniuk. It’s about a woman who you think is crazy, writing a diary about her crazy life, and her crazy mother-in-law, and crazy husband, laying like a vegetable in a coma from an attempted suicide. I had to reread the last two chapters to get to where I THINK I understand the ending. Think. I’m still not sure. I’m DYING to speak to someone who has read this book. I need to talk about it. It’s one of those books that you read and are awed by, but then you put it down and say “WHAT?!”

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So, I teach a creative writing class (as many of my audience knows. I’m sorry if I’m repetitive here). In it, I’d long ago come across a website that determines your writing style. You cut an paste some of your writing into the blank space, and it matches your style up with a notable author.


 I Write Like…

I copy and pasted this (part of one of my novels) in the blank space:

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And… my result: Chuck Palahniuk.

Whom I had never read, but over and over students selected Fight Club for independent reading. I found there are students who are completely devoted fans of Palahniuk’s writing and those who are not. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. I’d seen the film Fight Club and loved it!

And, now, I know why. A student recommended this book. He said I’d like it. I do. But I don’t see the connection in our writing styles per se except that we both write in first person and stream of consciousness.

So, they say IMITATION IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF FLATTERY (a phrase coined by Charles Caleb Colton, 19th century English cleric and writer). I became so curious about how my writing style is like Palahniuk’s that I began conceiving of a story in the voice of a narrator like the narrator in Diary. As the story came to me… the words rushed into my head in a narrator’s voice, and I wrote them down. Now, in taking a step back, I’m not sure I can sustain a voice like this (so incredibly fluid, choppy, non-linear, digressive, pointed…) for an entire novel.

I do this. I conceive of  a skeletal version of a story and begin by writing in the voice of the narrator before fleshing out the details. That’s where I am right now. That’s how Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Diary inspired me.

So, here I go.

Dinner Date [evolved]

After a long day & an even longer meeting at the end of the day, I need something to help me to relax.  Often (but not often enough), I go out to dinner w/ my friends. Usually, it’s at the end of a long day, much like today, and it’s usually the last thing my tired self wants to do, but I force myself because I know once I’m there I’ll just BE in the moment (leaving everything behind) and simply enjoy the experience.

I assign journal entries to my Writers’ Workshop students. Really, it’s one of my favorite things about the course– coming up w/ inventive ideas to spark their imagination. Not to mention, writing in my journal is one of the best forms of relaxation for me. So this week, I asked them, “If you could choose 5 people to go out to dinner w/, whom would you choose and what would you discuss?” Here’s my response…

For this dinner, I think I’d choose 5 women: Emily Bronte, Virginia Woolf, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and Hilary Clinton ( and if I had a sixth, it was most definitely be Oprah Winfrey). We’d choose a seaside location, a luncheon under umbrellas, sipping mimosas and bloody Mary’s on a sunny afternoon– perhaps Jackie’s childhood home at Hammersmith Farm in Newport, Rhode Island. It’s picturesque and peaceful while symbolizing character and legacy.

The topic of discussion would be resilience. In the face of adversity, each one of these women has demonstrated immeasurable strenth– I admire them all.

Eleanor Roosevelt sits at the head of the table, the matriarch among us. Her broad shoulders bear the life experiences of woman burdened with many obstacles. To her left is Hilary Clinton, whom she acknowledges as she places her cold hand atop Hilary’s resting on the imported lace cloth from France– a gift to Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, who sits on Eleanor’s right. Jackie is utterly enthralled by Eleanor’s presence, as she had been hired by John to oversee a committee that was sure to thrust feminism into the focus of the media. Jackie, while raised with a silver spoon, was not a woman who rested upon her family’s legacy but was determined to carve her own path. Beside Jackie sat a somewhat shy Emily Bronte wearing all white, linen dress and gothic Victorian hat to shield her pale skin from the sun. Once in a while, she’d tip her tea cup and let out the hint of a shy giggle in response to what the others, those who intimidated her just a little, were saying. They were talking about the state of women given their ages– a timeless conversation no matter the era. Across from Emily was Virginia Woolf, who was much more actively engaged in the conversation. Not the least bit intimidated, she pointed out bits of history as contributing factors to the treatment of women extolling her own visions of what the future would look like. Wiping the crumbs of the scone from the crease in her lips, Virginia looked quite pleased at how far we’d come.

… to be continued…

[So, I’d begun writing this, and, after I left it, as I normally do, I got to thinking, editing in my head, really. I was trying to begin a short story imagining the conversation these five women would have if they were all put into one setting ( having come from their own eras). Interesting idea– something I may pursue in the future, but not now, I thought.

Instead, I began to consider why I think each of them resilient. Certainly, having been mothers makes them resilient (but only 3 of them are mothers). Eleanor, I imagine to be stoic, yet warm, and strict– disciplined, self-disciplined and passing that trait onto her children would be very important to her. Hilary, on the contrary, seems very laid back in her approach to mothering, but having high expectations. I imagine her more as a friend toChelseathan a mother, though that may be, in part, due toChelseabeing an only child and the time/focus that would be afforded to Hilary. In her work, though, she appears steadfast and determined.  Jackie seems to be the most doting of the moms– the quintessential Martha Stewart of motherhood and homemaking. But I wonder how much of that was for media sake; never mind, I refuse to believe Jackie as being anything other than the perfect mother. When I was a child, I wanted to be one of her children. She seemed to have the perfect combination of love and grace.

But what about Virginia and Emily? Neither of them had children, nor desired to be according to my knowledge. Both of them led emotionally difficult lives: Emily in literal isolation from society andVirginiain the isolation of her mind. Yet, I see them both as incredibly resilient.Virginiahad such a strong influence on feminism in her time, simply because she refused to be prohibited by the standards set for women by her male counterparts. Having such incredible intellect and talent drove her to create a room of not only her own but pave the path for all women to have rooms of their own. Emily, living at an earlier time, carved out her own identity, though more of the silent, secret kind… while she and her sisters created pseudonyms for themselves to make their mark on society– a mark that wasn’t even realized during her lifetime.

Eleanor is an icon of feminism inAmerica… so is that it? Is that what defines resilience– the ability to lead by example for womankind? Hilary has certainly exemplified this quality, as well,  overtly so, and she has been met w/ disdain by many. She withstood all of the backlash from her husband’s infidelities, and, yet has managed to rise above by creating a legacy for herself quite separate from her husband. None-the-less, Jackie is also an icon more of femininity than feminism, but one cannot rebuke the mark she has made for women– the ability to do it all: be a feminine woman, an admirable mother, and have a career in her own right.

So, is it motherhood, or feminism, or femininity? Is it the ability to overcome obstacles, stand in the face of adversity, battle demons, thrive in isolation and still possess the ability to rise above?

Virginia Woolf coined the Stream-of-Consciousness writing style– a style whereby one tries to capture the thought process of one’s mind, which is what I’ve just done. It the fluidity of the style that reflects the female experience. She’s written whole novels in this style. Perhaps, it’s in each of these women’s ability to BE fluid that makes them resilient. And what I would give to have one fluid conversation w/ each of them…]