The title of the article “Writing In Between Worlds,” a suggested reading for my recent Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop and Retreat, intrigued me as a recent transplant from Chicago to Sioux Falls, from a city of nearly three million to one of 175,000. My body is here, but my heart is still in transit.
We did not discuss the article in class, and I think I know why. It’s complicated. The author, Elizabeth M. Knutson, explores the theme of “exile” in a correspondence between writers Nancy Huston and Leila Sebbar. For them, exile “connotes loss, expulsion, homelessness, and wandering” that results in a “living and writing between worlds” (p. 261). The “world” refers to culture as it varies when you move to another place or as it changes within your own home.
Greatly simplified, the essay describes how those writers found their voice as they changed worlds from their younger lives.
Voice. In the early 2000s, I took a course in writing essay at the Newberry Library in Chicago. The course emphasized the importance of “finding your voice.” As a recently retired nurse, I’d never heard that expression, and it plagued me for weeks. I had a voice; I’d never lost it. I talked, what else did I have to learn?
I read other writers and tried to emulate their voices. I didn’t have the literary background of Anne Lamott, so I failed at that attempt. And you can guess the rest; I didn’t have the vocabulary, the humor, the skill, the knowledge, the anything, it seemed, of all the accomplished writers I read.
At the time, I was beginning to write “Caring Lessons,” a memoir of my nursing career, and got myself twisted into knots trying to figure out where I could find the voice I was supposed to find. Finally, a classmate told me, “Lois, just pretend you are driving in the dark and telling your passenger your story. That’s your voice.”
Well, I wished I’d have known that from the beginning. I’d have saved myself a lot of angst. But then she added, “Of course, that’s only the start. Then you need to revise and apply the craft of writing.”
Bummer. But, she was right. My rambling in the car would not be art; it would be more like a journal entry.
And now, with the ideas from this article about writing in between worlds, I wonder how my living in exile, due to my move from a large to a small city, from one world to another, from one culture to another, affects my voice.
Sometime ago, I wrote “You are Where You Live.” Although I was not aware to what degree at the time, the article predicts how my voice might change. It feels like I’m still writing in limbo; my body is here, but my heart is still in the middle of that move, not there and not here.
So, even though the article, with many quotes in French, is beyond my comprehension, I am okay with how Huston defined exile as “being in more than one place, being inside and outside, belonging without belonging…not knowing the comfort of home as place of origin” (p. 262).
As a preacher’s kid who lived in five states growing up, and six cities after being married, I can see that writing in exile, or writing in between my many worlds, can be a “form of personal freedom” (p. 262). I can see that not belonging anywhere has freed me up to just be me. I can see that now I’m free to be whoever that will be…in my new state of South Dakota.
Enough of trying to be Dr. Seuss. Wow. Watch out!