So before departing for India I’m sleeping extra, packing thoughtfully, and making sure the details of my life are in perfect order before leaving for a month. Right?
Wrong. I am spending a wonderful few days with Elizabeth Gilbert—Eat, Pray, Love—and Cheryl Strayed—Wild—at 1440 Multiversity outside Santa Cruz on what I’m calling a writer’s weekend. It’s sort of that, we are certainly doing writing, but it’s more about facing whatever is inside of us and allowing it to empower whatever is trying to get out into the world.
“If I have one piece of writing advice,” said Liz yesterday, “and I really do have only one, it is to know who you are writing to.
“When I ask someone who they are writing for they usually say something like, ‘anyone who has ever been hurt and is trying to heal’, or ‘women over forty’. Folks, that isn’t someone, that is a demographic. You cannot speak to a demographic. You speak to a person.”
With Eat, Pray, Love, she was writing to her friend Suzy, who was going through exactly the same divorce experience. “She was exactly me, but with a kid.” With her forthcoming novel it is a different friend, one who could relate to the topic of showgirls and women who really do want to have a lot of sex.
I love Liz Gilbert, really I do, she could be a stand-up comedian if the writing career falls apart, but when I am writing I do not think of one person. I think of a small group of friendly people around the dinner table. When I write here in this space I’m writing to Ellie, and Joan, and Ted, and Bobbie, and Linda, and Ijaz, and Stacey, and Trissie a few more. Maybe a few dozen more. Maybe a few more than that. Certainly not a demographic.
Not only are Liz and Cheryl charming people and engaging writers, they are also insightful teachers. One of the tools is writing letters to various aspects of ourselves. Because it really is just a few of you here, push your chair out a little from the table and make sure you are comfortable. Have another cookie if you like. Since we are cozy I feel safe enough sharing one of the most powerful exercises.
The idea is to let your fear talk to you. For five minutes. Let it say its piece, directly. Liz gives the prompt, which is the first line of the letter.
“Dear Karen, I am your fear. This is what I have to tell you. You are paralyzed right now. Notice that? Even thinking about hearing from me, dealing directly with me, puts you in a state of panic. But really, the thing you don’t think about is that that is my job and that I serve a good and useful purpose. Really, I do. I watch out for you. I protect you. I work to keep you safe, but…and this is hard to admit, sometimes I am too good at my job. The carpenter pounds nails. The surgeon cuts flesh. And I instill terror. There, I said it. Terror.
It is my one and only job. I can try to do it a little less vigilantly if you can at least admit that I am here. No one wants to be ignored.
Respectfully, Your Fear.”
That felt good. Now I think I’ll have a cookie.
And finish packing.