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September 27, 2008

Writing Block

Writing Block

Today--TGIF--my lunch consisted of one egg/egg salad sandwich on stale bread that I hurried to make this morning (thank goodness for birthdays and colleagues bringing birthday donuts)— and a desire to write.

I’ve wanted to write since the publication of my book, HOW TO WRITE A SUICIDE NOTE, in June. I couldn’t. Not during lunches, not after work, not with friends and a glass of wine after work, not on weekends—no time, nowhere, nothing.

Writers write about writers’ block. Some say there is no such thing—that only a desire to write well, blocks us. Let go. Write. This wasn’t my problem. My problem was that I had challenged myself to write about love--my next book, I proclaimed, will be LOVE IMAGINED.

IMAGINING love is not easy. It is easier to write about what has been experienced—and my experiences haven’t necessarily been love-ly! What’s real, what I think I know or what I imagine?

I trust Richard Hugo’s concept of the “triggering subject.? I thought if I could just get started writing, I could discover much about imagined love. But the subject of LOVE didn’t trigger anything.

However, today, at lunch, I let go—not of the fear of not writing well, but of the triggering subject of LOVE. Instead, I remembered what a friend asked thirteen years ago—what is your theme/your focus? I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I hesitatingly said—identity.

I can’t run away from it—identity. I am a black Chinese woman who grew up passing for white. It has informed who I am and continues to do so, even as I enjoy my sixtieth year. I don’t know how to fool identity--how to write around it, away from it. In an odd way, it centers me.

At lunch, I reminded myself that I will write as long as I continue to be angry. Is that why I haven’t been able to write anything, because I’m not angry any more?

I thought I would put it to the test. I thought, maybe, even though there is more to be angry about than ever!--yes, there is--I am practicing serenity—so maybe I really can’t write, I am done writing, I will never have to write again. I would be okay with that. I am learning to not react. I am not—well, most of time I’m not—reacting. I chant--I love, I am loveable. (What does love have to do with anger/anger to do with love? Perhaps the answer is what I continue to write towards.)

The test: write something today, on my lunch hour, write anything, write. Think identity. Identity the triggering subject.

We never know where a triggering subject will lead us; it led me to writing again.

TGIF and I have the weekend ahead of me. Once triggered, there’s no stopping me. I have to write when I have to write. I remember, going to a bookstore in the early 80’s. There were no books about me, a Chinese Black woman who grew up passing for white. I was motivated. I wrote poem after poem after poem. In one afternoon I wrote enough poems to complete a chapbook, A LITTLE MIXED UP.

Identity is complex and changing. Yes, I guess I am still angry. I wrote a poem on my lunch hour. Here it is in its first draft not perfect form:


I said I would write

until love

replaced anger no one mad no crazed writers

no one writing I will write

until ghosts disappear, the ones dressed in white

sheets, the ones hanging from magnolia trees and

the choke cherry tree in my back-

yard, white picket fences, Woolworth’s,

high school football games/race riots, mother

knew more than I admit I remember though she was unwilling

to admit anything black it was the sixties and for my sister there were

drugs for me there was free love which was never free

paid for later with babies

who according to Kabala chose me so why do the women my sons love

mimic every girl I knew before I was nineteen, have I chosen them?

Are their babies, my grandsons, the generation to move beyond

my anger

to anchor


in place

to hold her

as she writes

hoping love will stop her.

Sherry Quan Lee

Women of Color: send your poems about identity, about anger, about love!

September 24, 2008



http://podcast.bookstores.umn.edu/achtenberg-lee.m4a (cut and paste)