I feel a bit beat-up, like I had a long, drunken night that ended in a mini-brawl that I can't remember and now I'm awake and trying to figure out what happened. No bruises or anything, just that feeling. Ass-kicked. I did not literally get my ass kicked--well, actually I did get my literARY ass kicked. I had my fantasy/sci fi novel workshopped in Chris Abani's 'Complete Novel Workshop' during my second week here at VONA. It was a good whuppin', because I'd been a 'bad' writer--hadn't developed my characters enough, hadn't written my 'bible' for the world that I've created, etc etc. Chris at one point even called it an 'intervention' to 'save' me, the 'addict'. Addicted to writing an illogical book, I'm supposing.
It was about what I expected. He had told us yesterday in orientation that he would make us cry, that he would really call us on our shit. And he did. His favorite question it seemed was: "What are you afraid of?" And at first I couldn't figure it out. I didn't think I was afraid of anything, but I realize now that I am afraid of making my protagonist vulnerable, of making her human (even though she's technically not), of making her consider doing something I feel every woman has a right to do but at the same time I would never want to do: have an abortion.
It was such a big revelation to me, but it came in a pretty unspectacular way, after a fellow workshop participant mentioned something about my protagonist being conflicted about wanting her baby, about whether she might abort it. As my stomach muscles tensed and I felt a strange nausea that rose to my chest, I realized that that was what I had been running away from in my story: my protagonist has to want to abort her baby. Whether she does it or not is an entirely different situation--or should I say whether she succeeds at aborting her baby or not is an entirely different situation.
It's so fascinating how the psyche works. I'm very openly pro-choice, have been trained to do clinic defense and was on the advisory board of Our Truths a publication which provides a forum for women who've had abortions to talk about their varied experiences. From happy to conflicted, from depressed to relieved. But this was still a hard thing for me to allow my character to even think about, let alone to do. Call it Catholic guilt, call it unresolved emotional issues, or whatever. It's the thing I needed to realize before I could really let this characcter be vulnerable.
As Chris said, I've had my breakthrough. Now I just gotta figure it all out in my writing. Wish me luck.
Poetry Saturday: Frederick Seidel
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