6. The poet’s smile…


The poet's smile slipped away. She looked very serious, standing there, her head tilted back and her long black hair rustling gently in the breeze. "I am looking for truth -- not for me, but for my poetry. It's quite important."

The crows were silent for a while.

This is a particularly appropriate story bit for today, because yesterday I helped Shmuel work a bit on a personal essay he's writing for class (about orthodox Judaism and transgender issues). Which was interesting -- I haven't done a lot of revising nonfiction -- or rather, I haven't done a lot of helping others revise nonfiction. Shmuel's a fine writer in the technical sense; he can do parallel constructions and clever phrasings and he knows plenty of words and all. But he's interested in doing this creative nonfiction thing seriously, and what I can't tell yet is whether he's willing to do the hard part, which is telling the truth. Telling the uncomfortable, awkward, difficult truth. Which involves, first of all, figuring out what that is, which means you have to be pretty honest with yourself and maybe even a little insightful about your own condition. And once you manage that, the truth isn't always so flattering to yourself, or to others you care about, and the question becomes whether you have the nerve to put that truth in print, where other people can read about it. And to put it down straight, without softening it, without hiding it in circumlocutions, without skimming right over it. You gotta be willing to dwell in it, in the tiniest bit of insight, to really push at every layer of meaning, of understanding. It's not an easy thing to do, but when you do it well, it's tremendously powerful. Even if you *aren't* a good technical writer.

That's what I'm not sure yet if Shmuel has...or rather, if he's willing to do that kind of writing work, because I do think all of us have the capability of writing that way. You just have to be willing to poke at the tender spots. Ouch. Poke. Ouch. Poke again. Owie!! Like that. It's what I find most promising about Heather's writing, actually -- she's unflinching about poking at the tender spots. I probably should be pushing her to do more memoir stuff, now that I think about it. Hm. I think she'd be really good at it.

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