Starting today and continuing for the next two Wednesdays, I’ll be leading a book club discussion at Tweetspeak Poetry about Charity Singleton Craig’s new book The Art of the Essay. It’s a patron-only club, and more information about how to become a patron at even the $1 level is here.
I called Charity to discuss her book, and we ended up talking about some things I couldn’t get to for the club, namely, the epilogue. Specifically, this sentence:
“I’ve often heard that it takes half as long as a relationship lasted to heal it once it has ended, and I wonder if the same is true for our writing.”
I’ve experienced this phenomenon for the 25 years I’ve worked as a professional writer, but I’ve never truly acknowledged it, much less understood it. That’s true whether I’m writing something big, but impersonal, like the Fredericksburg Art Guide, or something deeply personal, like a poem. How should I properly end my relationship with what I have written?
“There are two parts of that that I have not been good at,” Charity told me. “I’ve not taken time to think about how what I’m writing affects me, like in that way where I’ve given all of this out and I feel empty. Or I’ve not taken the time to say, ‘This is a great thing! I made this! Look, let’s celebrate!’”
Either way, whether I’m feeling empty or elated, there’s a loss. Charity made me realize I need to do something to mark the end of the writing relationship.
“I need to come up with some kind of ritual, even if it’s a brief thing. Maybe it’s light a candle, make a journal entry,” Charity told me, “[Something] quick enough to fit within the churning life of a writer, but important and substantive enough to actually help that process.” She speculates that the unwinding of The Art of the Essay might take a whole year because it took two to three to write.
The closest I’ve come to such a ritual is that every year in November, when I hand in Wacoan of the Year to be edited, I feel an overwhelming need to bake. It feels like a bake-or-die kind of moment. For the kind of writing that profile is — challenging but not very personal — it’s the right amount of ritual.
But I think not finding a grieving ritual to coincide with the publication of The Joy of Poetry did mess me up. I simply did not take the proper time. The book took a couple of years to write, so that’s a whole year of recovery right there. But it was about my mom, who I knew for 39 years before she died, so does that mean I needed 19 ½ years of unwinding? Maybe something between a whole year and 19 ½.
I wrote something True. Putting it out into the world emptied me. Anything less would have been easier to let go of. And not worthy of holding onto.
Charity has given me a whole new way to think about how I care for myself as a writer. I don’t yet have answers for what my ritual will look like, but I suspect it will have something to do with tea.
To read the teaser for the book club, click here: