"Reader, I married him."
And I did. Without the love and support of my husband, I could not have become the writer who produced most of these works. He believed I could write personal essays long before I did. Thank you, Jeffrey.
And so, Reader, before you begin any of these works, I think a few words about my publications is in order:
• From 1979 to 1998, I wrote short stories. Why I did this, and why I stopped, are discussed in my Bio (v.).
• From 1998 till the present, I have mostly written Creative Nonfiction – this is an umbrella term that covers a great many aspects of nonfiction writing. However, in my case, works have fallen primarily into these categories:
1. Personal Essays: The best definition of this genre comes from the exceptional collection, The Art of the Personal Essay, edited and introduced by Philip Lopate. He describes the personal essayist as someone who is "...speaking directly into your ear, confiding everything from gossip to wisdom."
2. Critical Essays: These are not book or film reviews per se. Rather I use a work as a "jumping off" point for discussing aspects of the larger life.
3. There are works I call "blend" pieces for lack of a better or more elegant term. These are a combination of book/ film reviews and my own personal observations and experiences.
4. Some pieces don't fit into any category – a speech I (didn't) give at a conference (but was given for me); a sermon, interviews et alii.
• There is a marked hiatus in my publishing (not my writing) from approximately 2003 to 2009. During this period of time I did a number of things:
• Wrote (and I continue to write) notes for and drafts of essays and other pieces.
• At the suggestion of my agent, I began work on a memoir with a working title of Homesick.
• Wrote, and attempted to market, a screenplay entitled Radical Acts – out of this came an essay I think especially fine (v. "On Writing A Screenplay"), a very important colleague who became a beloved friend, and the knowledge that Robert Altman's film The Player doesn't come close to portraying the world of filmmaking in all its warts. (I have not given up on this screenplay. It simply needs the "right" actress to read it – someone in her late thirties/ early forties – and see that it provides an exceptional part and opportunity.) And I must admit, I had a blast writing this script and would love to write another. It's a terrific genre, tight, limited, keeping the writer always sharp. Or should.
•Survived (though barely) the purchase of our first house (called The Wolf's Den for some obvious and not so obvious reasons), its extensive renovation, and a move from the rental in which I had lived for 23 years. It was, without question, the best of times and the very worst of times.
I have endeavored to give a few sentences about each work. In some cases, a word of explanation is necessary. When available, I have supplied a link to the work online where it may be read in full. I have also supplied links to the magazine, its Cover/ Table of Contents in which the work originally appeared (where available).
In some cases, I have not read these pieces in close to a decade. I am surprised (I can't remember creating these words, sentences etc.), astonished, embarrassed, saddened and frankly delighted. I explain my process best in "On Writing a Screenplay" but as my mother would say, "I'll be damned if I know" where it all comes from.
–Susan L. Feldman
San Francisco 2010
Essays and other Creative Nonfiction:
• "At This My Mid Century, I Want Steven Wolf to Look at Me Again With Love" appeared in Chelsea 2003. This essay was written in a kind of "time warp." My husband became terribly ill 28 days after our wedding in late 1994 and as I struggled to keep him alive while battling my own ill health, we "lost" the next 9 years. We have both independently arrived at the same conclusion: feeling not the age we are but rather almost a decade younger (in spite of the mirror). It was only in 2003 that we picked up - where we would have begun in 1994 – by putting into the works our plan to buy a house. This essay then was written after I turned 50 and during a time in which I did not know if my husband would survive, if I would survive, and our lives looked so very different from what we had assumed they would at the millennium's turn.
• "The High Wire" is a speech I was to give at the American Society of Journalists and Authors workshop on Creative Nonfiction. Being too ill to attend the conference, the speech was delivered by the workshop chair, Janine Latus. I received a number of wonderful notes and emails from people who heard the speech and it was eventually excerpted in the ASJA newsletter. The admiration of one's peers is a heady drug indeed.
• "Yahrzeit" appeared in The Sun, July 2002. In 2001 I was contacted by its editor, Sy Safransky. He said he had read my work in other magazines and asked if I would like to submit to The Sun. It was thrilling to have a work solicited in this way. I had, in fact, just finished a personal essay about the lessons I learned from my friend Peter (who died of AIDS in 1989). Peter shared with me his struggles to be honest and face whatever life brings, and keeping emotions real (all this in California!). He taught me the importance of looking at life as he said, "unflinchingly."
• "Where Nobody Dies" appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Summer 2002. Its title is taken from Millay's poem "Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies." I was pretty much thrown out of the kingdom of childhood with the sudden death of my grandfather, father and grandmother all in rapid succession just as I was turning nine. That abrupt exile has left me reeling to this day.
• "No After" appeared in Epoch, Fall 2001. This essay was selected as one of the "Notable Essays of 2001" in The Best American Essays 2002, edited by Robert Atwan. This long piece is the one I spent nearly ten years trying NOT to write. It's about being ill with a chronic (which is quite different from an acute) illness and what it means to have your life implode as a result. The title comes from the line of Emily Dickinson's "After great pain a formal feeling comes…." In chronic illness, there is no "after." There is no time to look forward to when you will not be in pain, when you will be well, safe, secure. This piece is perhaps the most ruthless I've written and the most significant. But it cost me the most to write. While it is the essay I am most proud to have written, its one I wish I'd never have known the means to write.
• "Fort Funston" appeared in The Massachusetts Review, Spring 2001 and certainly earns the soubriquet of "bittersweet" – a feeling I rarely experience. I lived at that time at the extremes and the edges of ordinary life.
• "Split Screens" appeared in Connecticut Review, Spring 2001. It is about my first putting my hands to the keyboard, whether I liked it or not (I didn't at first), and my first stumblings as a writer.
• "Besieged" appeared in the Fall/ Winter 2000-01 issue of Ontario Review. Being the consummate "good girl" I, unlike many writers, do not submit my work to more than one publication at a time. (Most require that your work not be under consideration elsewhere even if they take a year to respond.) I had sent "No After" to Epoch and when I did not hear from them (nor did I get a response to my inquiries), I figured it was safe (and fair) to submit it elsewhere. I sent it to Ontario Review and got a note from Joyce Carol Oates its Managing Editor. She said they wanted to publish the piece but felt it was too long and asked that I make cuts. While I was (unhappily) laboring to do so, I got a note from Epoch, apologizing for being out of touch. It was a clear case of the right hand not knowing what the left was doing – someone thought someone else had contacted me. They wanted to publish "No After" (as written). I wrote to Joyce Carol Oates, explaining the mix-up and stating that I should honor the prior submission to Epoch. I also sent along my essay "Besieged" and asked if she might consider it instead. She did. And it was published in Ontario Review without so much as a comma changed.
• "On Writing A Screenplay" appeared in the Spring 2000 issue of Southern Humanities Review. This essay was also selected as one of the "Notable Essays of 2000" in The Best American Essays 2001, edited by Robert Atwan, I had a great time writing this essay and I believe it can serve as a primer/ warning/ encouragement to anyone thinking of writing a script.
• "The Gift" appeared in the collection Dutiful Daughters, edited by Jean Gould, Washington: Seal Press, 1999. This collection of essays is written by women and is subtitled "Caring for Our Parents as They Grow Old." I have never liked the title of my piece and would be glad if someone comes up with a better one.
• "Power" appeared in A View From the Divide: Creative Nonfiction on Health and Science, a special double issue of Creative Nonfiction, Number 11, 1998. This entire issue was singled out as one of the "Notable Essays of 1998" in The Best American Essays 1999, edited by Robert Atwan. I am very grateful to Lee Gutkind who coined the term Creative Nonfiction. The acceptance of this piece by this magazine, and especially for this issue, was a significant confirmation of my nonfiction writing.
• "Doubt and Faith" published in Reform Judaism Magazine, Winter, 1991. This piece – whose title was chosen by the ediors and provoked considerable hate mail – (Never put those two words together, I learned. It is like a red-flag to religious crazies.) is derived from a "sermon" I gave on Yom Kippur 1988 at Congregation Sha'ar Zahav. Briefly: at that time CSZ was an unusual congregation with an unusual rabbi (Rabbi Yoel Kahn – pace and thanks) and I was a very active member. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are kind of like Christmas and Easter – there are people who only attend services on those holidays. And so giving any of the High Holiday sermons meant addressing members of the Jewish community who don't regularly attend services. It was a great honor. And a great responsibility. My deepest thanks to JS who held my hand every step of the way – he was the best editor anyone could ask for. And to my friend David, who loved me and made me laugh and taught me a good deal about anger and justice. He died before his 38th birthday, many decades too soon. The sermon, the essay, my words were meant for him. May his memory be for blessing.
• "Housed" appeared in the Summer 1998 issue of Room of One's Own. This is the first essay I had published though the second I had accepted. I am very grateful to The Growing Room Collective who gave me my first opportunity to see an essay of mine in print and shored up my fears about finally being on the right path as an essay writer.
Book and Film Reviews:
• "Unveiling Harvard's Gay Inquisition" is a review of Harvard's Secret Court – The Savage Purge of Campus Homosexuals by William Wright which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, November 13, 2005.
• "The Evidence of Gay Culture's 'Lost Heritage'" is a review of Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century by Graham Robb which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle February 1st, 2004.
• "Habituated By Art" a book review of Nigel Spivey's Enduring Creation: Art, Pain, and Fortitude published by University of California Press, appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Spring 2002. This review also included an interview with the author.
• Spivey Interview–This interview was conducted by email. I sent Professor Spivey (who you may know from his PBS series "How Art Created the World") my questions and he emailed me back his answers. Due to an incompatibility in our email programs, his answers came in a different type font and size. I had not even finished half a cup of coffee when I logged on to get my email and found myself staring at a screen ablaze with the words COCKSUCKER! COCKSUCKER! in 70 point type filling the screen. Needless to say it's a very provocative interview.
• "If I Could Tell You" appeared in the 1/ 2001 issue of Northwest Review; this is an essay/ book review of Annie Dillard's book For the Time Being and Patricia Hampl's If I Could Tell You. It was the first time I grappled with writing a less than wholly positive review (of Hampl's book – I adored Dillard's). It would not, however, prepare me for the time, some years later, in which I had to review a truly mediocre book by a renowned author who I very much admired. She was then dying, publicly and painfully, of cancer. And I could not do it. I never managed to write the review; I only managed to alienate an editor who could not seem to fathom my hesitations and scruples.