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I remember my first day; after a simple breakfast, I walked out to my shed, set up my typewriter (!), put some pads of paper on the desk, and arranged my pens and pencils. And then I just sat there. How to begin? What to write? Surely someone must have made a mistake in selecting me for this residency. I was a fraud, empty. What could I possibly write? I took out the proposal I had written for my application. Something about the long-term friendship of four Jewish women from New York. Okay. I would make the effort.
For two days I labored away, getting to my shed by 9 a.m. and staying there at least until 4 p.m. I changed the names of all the characters, including my own. I stuck close to real incidents but allowed myself to invent new beginnings and endings. Everything felt labored and false. Nothing seemed real or alive. But I knew I had to keep going, if only to justify my existence at this amazing place. I wrote longhand, painstakingly, without any passion.
And then on the third or fourth day, something suddenly shifted. I re-read what I had written and saw that my real impulse, my deep desire, was to tell the truth about myself. I had grown up a shy and isolated child, someone who rarely shared anything with anyone. Now, as an adult, I wanted my story to be known. I wanted to tell people exactly how I experienced the world. Changing names and inventing scenes made no sense; it was the truth that wanted to emerge, and it was the truth I would have to tell, no matter how frightening that seemed. I decided I had to write memoir. And I decided it had to be grounded in my current reality...
By Julie Bergman