This week I’m subbing for a creative nonfiction class at Second Job. I was nervous yesterday. It was the first day; I was going to have them for two days. I had to come across like an authority or at least knowledgable or at least have something interesting to say. I had to fill up an hour and fifteen minutes.
I put on the uniform: button-down shirt, nice pants, matching socks (!), and leather shoes. Glasses on, hair up. I grabbed my work bag, made sure I had water and a granola bar, and I went to school. Instant professional!
Intellectually I knew I could teach the class. I know a lot about writing nonfiction, and as my boss reminds me when it comes to teaching we are the smartest people in the room about the subject at least. It sounds belittling, but it helps. I can deal with freak questions and surprises.
But there is a part of me that remembers feeling like I would rather die than go in front of a roomful of people. I know I can babble and not state things clearly in times of stress or tiredness or really for any reason at all.
And so on Monday I turned to Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story, which I have not read since grad school. (I remember taking it to the park in those days.) I wanted to slow down the process of writing nonfiction and remember the stages. And I came across the following quote:
Writers might not “know” themselves—that is, have no more self-knowledge than the rest of us—but…they know who they are at the moment of writing.
So I guess this is how you build a book: one bracingly true moment at a time.