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Maybe It's Not Too Late: Dorothy Allison and the Power of Being Uncomfortable

Literary Hub just published a beautiful piece of one of my heroes, Dorothy Allison. Read the fabulous article here: "Dorothy Allison on the Necessity of Making Readers Uncomfortable."

By Editors Garden and Gun

Nov. 22, 2019.


Maybe It's Not Too Late: Dorothy Allison and The Power of Being Uncomfortable

By Piper Selden

"You have to give up wanting to please," she says. And I know that this is a tall order. For me, it is.

I would like to share a memory if I could:

Mar 14, 2015, the date on the photograph. Just days before my birthday. When was it? Mid-graduate school. Writing my ass off. Pre-cancer. It's a blur, but that's not what matters.

I met Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina and others. I say it so blandly here, but make no mistake. My body was all lead and butterflies. I wouldn't believe it myself if I didn't have this picture of us, this badass hero of mine. Dorothy Allison, a literary truth teller, a taker of no shit, one of my most significant paper mentors. And me.

Gurl, here's the truth: I didn’t wash that boob for DAYS after this picture. She came to meet my creative writing low-res class at Antioch University LA, a guest reader who also gave workshops.

I attended all of her sessions. Bought her books. Soaked up her voice and her deep-seated wisdom like gravy, licking it from my lips. My takeways: Be bold. For fuck sake, be BOLD! Break open the molds. Do your own thing. Write your story from the inside out. 💜

I went in for a chat and hug after a heart-shaking talk she gave on "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," a 1973 work of short fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin, a short work that went deep. It's like I couldn't keep the thoughts inside, felt them spilling out. I grabbed my notebook and scribbled a bunch of notes. Deep in thought, I bobbed up my head to see her winding down. And I knew it was now or never.

It was a great talk, the kind that you think about for hours, day, and years later. Home. Self. Bravery. What is it you plan to do? You have a choice! She said something or I did, I can't remember, but we were laughing. And as we laughed, my boob grazed her hand. My bad, or good. More laughter. The best kind.

After a few more minutes, she leaned in close. "Send me something," she said, and I could tell she was serious. The crinkle alongside her eyes. "I don't mess around when it comes to writing," she said. "It's important."

But I wasn't ready, then. Fuckity, fuck, fuck. Seriously: To doubt oneself even after such a talk, such a heart-to-heart. Looking back, what a pile of fucknuggets to my long-storied history of floor matting and not thinking myself enough or ready or whatever.

So, I sit here tonight, inoculated with another shot of Dorothy Allison's strong voice, calling to me from the pages: "STOP people pleasing and do your thing, Piper." I imagine she's still talking to me. "Start now," she says in my dream. "What'chu waiting for?" I shake my head because she's abso-fucking-lutely correct. I'm not getting any younger, but that's not a bad thing. I have life experience and wildness, and anger, and disdain for stupid rules, and impatience for small-minded people, and yes, a lot of regret.

I have material for lifetime of writing-- from my childhood on.

Here am I tonight. I cycle back again and again, like bookends on my writing shelf. Writing. Learning. Doing. Being brave. Pencil to paper. Write what you know. All the things you hear.

But, but, but... what about those uncomfortable lost opportunities, of me not risking, not sending those pages? Not anything. Gahhh! What was I thinking? Who the heck knows?

Here's what I'm thinking tonight after re-reading that article, the third time today. Maybe all of those years ago, Dorothy was telling us that to be writers, we also need to be uncomfortable. How can we not be if we're tearing open our chests and spilling our souls? There's no soft Care Bear fluffing I'm gonna mash into that kind of gaping hole. No.

Today I could kick myself in the ass with my own foot for not sending Dorothy Allison my stuff. Don't laugh. I'm pretty flexible for an old broad. I could self-flagellate, but maybe something more useful. Something less mired in my own wallowing pity. My Mama didn't raise a quitter.

Instead, I give myself just a few minutes and think about lost opportunities. All the stupid excuses that sound so right at the time.

I wasn't ready.

I'm not ready.

I was too young.

Maybe I'm too old.

I had other stuff to do.

My "to do" list runs my life.

But did I? Did I do the things? What were they? Did they matter? Do they matter today?

Wasn't all this just more fear-based bullshit? EXACTLY what Dorothy had talked about all those years ago? Fuckity, fuck.

"Wake up, Piper!"

So here's that stupid story: I wasn't quite ready, then. I needed to polish before I sent my stuff to a real writer. I had sea legs at the end of my writing program. Had miles of walking to unlearn some stuff. Had to get quiet and listen. I had to go outside and scream. And cry. And remember. And write.

Writers need to be uncomfortable too.

Maybe it's not too late to do something wild and wonderful and brave in the face of pee-your-pants laughter. I hope not. 💜

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