Welcome to Writing Our Lives
A new newsletter for lovers of all things personal essay and memoir
For so long folks have asked me if I had a newsletter or email list they could be added to. I resisted. For years. I can think of a million reasons why, but ultimately they come down to laziness and not wanting to do the business side of this work I do that I love so much.
I am good at many things. I’m good at teaching. I’m good at writing. I’m good at editing. I am not good at handling the business side of these things, and I have to change that.
I thought (or wanted to think?) that posting the information on my publications and classes on my social media would suffice. I love connecting with people organically. I love to hear stories about how folks found my work in a lit mag, online somewhere or by word of mouth.
Picture it: a writer reads a piece about their mother in a class, and the teacher or a fellow student says: you write a lot about your mother, you should check out Vanessa’s Writing the Mother Wound work.
- or -
An aspiring writer comes across one of my essays online, says: I wish I could write like that…looks me up, finds out I teach classes and writes to me to get more info.
I believe that people who are supposed to find me, my words and classes, will. But technology is what it is, and we have to keep up.
Writing is an art form, as is teaching, but both are also businesses. They are how I make a living. We get left behind if we don’t somehow participate.
The other day, a friend and Writing Our Lives repeat offender (what I call writers who come back to work with me again and again) posted this poem by Judy Brown:
What makes a fire burn is space between the logs, a breathing space. Too much of a good thing, too many logs packed in too tight can douse the flames almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires requires attention
to the spaces in between, as much as to the wood.
When we are able to build open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how it is fuel, and absence of the fuel together, that make fire possible.
We only need to lay a log lightly from time to time.
simply because the space is there, with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn can find its way.
The poem stayed with me because…I recently got off social media for a few months. Truth is, I’d been contemplating it for a while. I’ve taken breaks here and there, but I knew I needed a more extended break. Then, in December, my beloved nephew Justin Andrew, my brother’s only child, was murdered. My brother who I lost in 2013 to a 15 year heroin addiction. My brother who was my superman.
The loss buckled me. I felt piled on. I needed air. Space…
I love this work, I love this community, but I was suffocating and the grief was like a vise, so I went quiet. And that quiet was everything.
After some time, I started missing teaching & being in community. I wondered how I could connect again without being on social media so much. Because let’s be honest, there are some great things about social media, but it can be a lot. I get overstimulated, the constant information and posts overwhelm.
Jay Shetty recently posted a video on instagram of a snippet of his conversation with Ashley Graham where he insists (and I agree) we’d never invite 100 people into our bedrooms in the morning but that’s exactly what we do when we grab our phones and scroll. That’s a lot of pressure and stress on our minds. This is what we do every time we log on and scroll—invite hundreds of people and their stories into our heads and lives. This is not me wagging a finger at you. I’m guilty of it too, but am working on not doing that anymore. It’s so hard to break this habit, but I need air, openings. I need to breathe.
Ultimately, that’s what made me finally cave and decide to create this here newsletter you’re reading. It’s a way to still feel connected while also preserving my energy and space.
So what can you expect?
Like my recent essay, Letting Go of My Long Hair, and All That it Carried, on Oldster Magazine, where I share why I cut my waist length hair when I moved out of the city last winter.
You can also find a list & links to past publications here.
Like The Begin Again Series: generative and craft classes that will take place on Wednesdays in April: April 6th, 13th, 20th & 27th, 7-9pm EST.
The first of the series on April 6th is: Writing About Home
A Creative Nonfiction Prompt:
Because if you’re here, I assume you love all things memoir, personal essay, autobiographical writing, and what better way to immerse yourself in the creative nonfiction genre than to write?!
Instructions: Set a timer for at least ten minutes and WRITE!
Try to follow Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Practice Rules, which you can find here.
You may also get:
Some random musings. An occasional personal essay, maybe. You’ll likely hear about gardening as I’m planting a garden on our land this year. Yay!
Some interesting reads:
I’ve been reading tons of nature writing. I’m presently in love with all of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s work, including this essay from Orion Magazine. If you love this essay, I strongly recommend you pick up her collection Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. You can find an excerpt of the book here.
Got something to say?
I’m also open to hearing from you, so don’t hesitate to let me know: What do you want to see? Read?
That’s it for now. Thanks for spending some time with me.
May joy find you and make you a home,
I have exciting news to share: You can now read Writing Our Lives in the new Substack app for iPhone.
With the app, you’ll have a dedicated Inbox for my Substack and any others you subscribe to. New posts will never get lost in your email filters, or stuck in spam. Longer posts will never cut-off by your email app. Comments and rich media will all work seamlessly. Overall, it’s a big upgrade to the reading experience.
The Substack app is currently available for iOS. If you don’t have an Apple device, you can join the Android waitlist here.