Unchaste Readers: Women Reading their Minds is a spoken word series that creates and recreates itself bimonthly on the 3rd Tuesday in Portland, Oregon.The Unchaste Readers are women aged 21 to 71 who speak of finding and losing all of the things that women find and lose. They hold our hands as they tell hard stories that they’ve survived or are still surviving. They make us laugh at them and at ourselves in the kindest, most creative ways.
The Interviews of Unchaste Women is an interview series of former readers, which is hosted on the Unchaste blog. I was fortunate to have read my mind for an Unchaste show in 2013 and so was asked to participate in the interview series. Here’s what I had to say:
Who are you? What do you do?
Hi, I’m Gloria. I live in Portland, Oregon with my twelve year old twin sons. I’m a full time parent, but I share physical custody with my coparent week on, week off. Monday through Friday, I sell eight-and-a-half hours of my life for gold to help run an administrative office at a hospital. I spend a lot of time working for the boys’ school in various PTA communications positions. I also spend a lot of time advocating for and sharing time with parents of high needs, behaviorally atypical children who, like my sons, require a type of attention that is outside the bounds of the typical school structure. I also play an embarrassing amount of online Scrabble.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
It’s my understanding that there are magical humans in the world that have a writing “process” and a regular “routine,” but I am not one of those. I should be. But I should also eat less sugar and get better sleep. Mostly, when I write, it’s because I have something to say that desperately has to get out. It’s really more like an exorcism or word diarrhea than an identifiable routine or process.
What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?
The most important element of good writing, in my opinion – the only one that truly matters – is honesty. Bold, unfiltered, gutting (when applicable) honesty. It’s wonderful if people are able to accomplish this with flowery prose or lyricism, but that’s flavoring more than anything. A dish of only thyme and cumin is unpalatable. The base ingredient must always, always be honesty. So, the most important must-have tool for a writer, I think, is bravery and the ability to hold her feet to the fire without shying away. Also, she must have something to say – and she must know what that something is, or at least have a strong idea. Make a commitment, stick to it, see it through to the end. See what you’ve got. Then edit it to make it as fine-tuned as it can be. Even if it turns out to be shit, make it the best, most honest shit you could write.
What motivates you to write?
When it comes to narrative nonfiction, which is mostly what I write, my main motivation is connection. I spend a lot of time in my head feeling like I’m the only one who ever… What I’ve found over and over, though, is that there is usually at least one other person who is feeling similarly disconnected about whatever subject matter I’m cogitating on. And I’ve found that if I can express my thoughts clearly and honestly and then find that one other person, they feel less alone, more connected, and maybe even less nuts. A lot of times, I feel like an alien on a bewildering planet and writing helps me find the other shipwrecked souls.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
I choose to no longer suffer from writer’s block, so I’m probably not the best person to look to for guidance in this area. I know people say daily practice helps unstick you, but I’m the worst at that. I stepped away from my memoir about four years ago because I was blocked and couldn’t figure out why and it was more painful than pleasant. That’s when the idea that you must write for yourself and no one else really was driven home for me. What was I doing it for? Who was I doing it for? What was I trying to accomplish. That voice that was telling me I must write this, I was failing if I didn’t – whose voice was that? It was incredibly relieving when I realized that I wasn’t a slave to some phantom overlord voice demanding more from me than I had to give, so I stepped away. I concentrated on other things and did a lot of therapy and got more involved in my children’s school life and tried dating. Basically, I got on with my life. Four years later, I’m reinvested in the memoir and I hope to finish it by the end of the year. For the first time ever, I’m trying out this whole “routine” thing people have talked about. My commitment is 1,000 words a day, no matter how bad they are. I don’t have a set time or place to write these, but just the number: one thousand. I’m keeping my manuscript in a Google Drive doc so that I can access it anywhere and write it in bits throughout the day if necessary. But it took me four years to become unblocked and get to this place where I could commit again – and I’ve realized and processed all the elements that blocked me in the first place (fear, mostly, but also confusion and audience.) I needed that entire four year period to be able to write again.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Know who you’re writing for. Think critically. Be clear about your motivations. Take breaks if you need to. The race is only between you and yourself.
What is the message in your book? What are your readers’ reactions to it?
I have no idea what the message in my manuscript is and I can’t think about that or it’ll be another four years before I write again. I have, however, excerpted pieces of the thing in various publications and the reaction is always positive and connecting.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Talk to me in spring of 2015. I hope to have at least one clever thing to say.
What are your current/future projects?
I’m over the moon excited that my essay “Let’s See How Fast this Baby Will Go,” which was on This American Life in 2013, is in a just-released anthology called Spent: Exposing Our Complicated Relationship with Shopping. I’m featured alongside the likes of Kerry Cohen, Meg Worden, and Monica Drake. It’s totally, completely awesome.
Finishing my memoir is the most urgent current project (working title: Crowdsurfing through Hell). I feel like I’ve been pregnant with this thing for ten years. That’s a long time to gestate. This fucking thing is going to come out fully grown and ready to go to college. I’m already looking for discounts on dorm fridges and educational electronics for it.
In the future, though, I hope to write a nonfiction book relating my experience raising high needs children and all the mistakes I’ve made, the lessons I’ve learned, and the tools I’ve gained. There are a lot of parents that don’t have a map for navigating this brave new world and I think there’s a lot of suffering going on out there that could be mitigated by collaboration and connection.
What book(s) / author(s) have influenced your life and writing?
Any book I’ve ever read and loved has somehow influenced my life and writing. I find good writing and good art in general to be a type of fuel I can’t get anywhere else. That said, if I could have a dinner party with a group of writers I love, I’d pick Kurt Vonnegut, Lidia Yuknavitch, Jack Kerouac, Anita Diamant, David Sedaris, Flannery O’Connor, Sarah Vowell, and Stephen King.
Why are you Unchaste?
Well, I don’t think I am. Synonyms for unchaste are sinful, unworthy, immoral. I used to feel all of these things about myself because, I mean, come on –that’s what or culture says we should feel as women who circumvent the dominant paradigm of patriarchy and conflicting messages about sex and sexuality. Plus, you know, my childhood was an apocalypse or whatever. But I’m 38 years old, I’ve done a lot of therapy, my body has proven itself to be strong and worthy, and fuck that – I don’t have to believe the lies handed to me anymore. I’m not some bastion of morality or lacking in sin (but also not religious, so don’t really believe in sin), but I’m a decent person who tries not to be a dick to anyone and I believe we’re all here to help each other. Ideas of chaste and unchaste don’t even fit into that.
What makes you Unchaste?
Depends on who you ask, doesn’t it? If you ask me – nothing. If you ask a fire and brimstone preacher from a flyover state, I’ll bet there would be a long list: tattoos, sexual freedom, the tendency to curse like I’m trying to win a competition, drinking, smoking (sometimes…), my entire history between 12 and 20. But, I’m not asking them, so I don’t worry about it!
Why is it important to be Unchaste?
What it’s important to be is truthful with yourself. I work with a lady who was raised in a fundamentalist household who had all kinds of should-and-should-not ideologies forced on her until well into her thirties. She told me the other day that she was in a college course in critical thinking a few years ago and it occurred to her that she hadn’t ever thought for herself in her whole life. She was beaming when she said it. And I just thought that’s it right there. You can’t be truthful with yourself or anyone else if you’re not thinking for yourself. So, that’s a good place to start.