UNM 2016: Naked

I have often said that good writing requires you to get naked. In two presentations at this conference, Sandra Cisneros has demonstrated exactly what I meanimage, and what I can aspire to.  She speaks from the heart, and so visibly is affected by the effort, laying her soul bare.  Her poverty.  Her impostor syndrome. Her depression and recovery.

Yet, humor lifts every profound idea. To prepare for this second lecture, writing tips, she tells of how her efforts to write were dashed by construction noise and dust at her house: “the sound of hammers and saws all day… which is the Mexican national Anthem, you know?”

Her first writing tip?  Speaking lovingly of her agent of 27 years she said, “She is why I have not needed to get married.” Smiles…”So I tell young girl writers, ‘You don’t need to be married…but get an agent.'”

Then she dealt with the most common question: “What do I need to do to become a writer.”  She says whenever this dead horse of a question comes up she asks back, “Do you want to be a writer, or do you want to be an author?  Because you can’t do both simultaneously.”  Anyone can write, but once you’re hyping a book, you are an author.  The two worlds are very different. Some people can do both.

“Rage is fuel.  Use it.  Just don’t finish angry.  If you’re still angry, you’re not done.”   You’re not “naked” until, as she said, “you’ve cleaned out your heart.”

Write “Buttons”  You don’t need to write the whole thing in one take, in sequence. Cisneros says the years where she attempted to write whole books linearly, from a pre-determined place, were the years of her worst writing.  Get  a three ring binder.  Write buttons and put them in the binder to be reordered later, when you know what your story is.  To a degree, I stumbled on this technique when I hit a writing block and diverted myself to SEEMINGLY different material.  Only after diving into a tangentially related piece did I suddenly uncover more of my main story.

Never stop writing.  Luck favors the prepared and nothing you do at the keyboard (or Moleskin book) is wasted effort.  You don’t make the winning shot in the NBA finals without practicing dribbling and free throws.

“There are two types of people in the world: “Sensenteles”(sp?)… uplifting muses bringing music to your heart, light to your mind, salvation in your darkest hours… and “Chupacabrones”… a neologism of staggering beauty.  “Chupacabra” – A Mexican mythical beast, combined with “cabrones”.. .mother fuckers!   Those soul-sucking dementors who bring you down, minimize, tell you to not follow your dreams, call while you’re writing to ask “Why haven’t you called me lately.”

Keep the chupacabrones away at all cost.

And on Depression, remember two things:

First, use your depression, before it uses you.  There are elements to be mined, but get help. Always move forward.  Depression thrives on immobility.  Take ANY step to get out.

Second, if it should strike you, remember that it will end.  This is temporary.  You want to be around when that magical year arrives, you get your book deal, movie contract, MacArthur fellowship, etc.  or as she put it, “Good thing I wasn’t dead when all that happened, eh?”

I can’t do justice to the font of love and humanity she displayed and embodied.  It  brought me to tears to see the raw “nakedness” of her inner life.  And here I sit, continuing to hold my towel up, with a pair of undershorts beneath that.  I keep asking “How can I safely get to naked?”

There is no safe path, or if there you’re on one… you’re not naked yet.


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