My craft book, Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative, will be published tomorrow. It feels surreal and sort of frivolous in the context of everything that’s happening at national and global (and even Iowan) levels right now. I’ve been struggling (not just recently, but forever, and increasingly over the last six years) with the work of balancing my ongoing grief, rage, and terror at things I am mostly powerless over with the beauty, joy, and stress of the more local elements of my own life. There’s a familiar path of thought that begins with guilt at my own privilege and worry over personal stresses, moves through the fact that my guilt helps no one, and usually ends with me resolving to celebrate the good with sincere gratitude and also donating money to multiple places.
I never planned to publish two books in two years. I would never plan such a thing. One of the best parts of being a writer is that I get to retreat into my artistic process in solitude for years at a time, then emerge to be thrilled and exhausted by the outward facing experience of publishing a book, and then run back into my cave for a few more years. But, things in publishing unfold as they do and I’m not sorry to be ushering this new book into the world next week.
Teaching is an enormous part of my life, a perfect counterpoint to the practice of writing, and this book is in large part a response to my observations over the last fifteen years of teaching and writing. Mostly, it is about building a life in which creative practice is at the center and integrated with every other practice that matters to me. The longer I live, the less discrete the parts of my life become, the more unified the work of being. The work of writing better is less and less distinguishable from the work of loving better, living with increasing honesty, liberating the mind and body from harmful social conditioning, and maintaining a connection to something greater than the self.
Body Work is also kind of just a long pep talk for anyone who wants to make art out of experience and has a voice (or many voices) inside them that pipe up and offer reasons why they shouldn’t.
I’m proud of it. It’s a very earnest book. I’m grateful to those of you who have preordered it. I’ll be launching it virtually on Tuesday with two of my favorite writers of personal narratives, Mary Karr and Leslie Jamison, via one of my favorite bookstores, Books Are Magic. You can register for the event by clicking this link. I’ll be doing a few other events, mostly online, that you can check out here.
One of the essays from the book is up at the Sewanee Review. It’s called, “The Return: The Art of Confession,” and it explores the analogies I see between personal writing, the spiritual practice of confession, and trauma recovery. It’s also about being a kid with too many feelings who found a refuge in books and writing, and how I’m pretty much exactly the same as an adult. You can read it here. Here’s a paragraph from it that sums things up pretty neatly:
You can preorder the book anywhere you buy books, but I encourage you to buy from your local independent bookstore. If you order it from my local bookstore, Prairie Lights, you can request a personally signed copy via this link. You can also support indie bookstores by ordering from Bookshop.
I’m headed back to New York today, for the first time since we moved to Iowa in July of 2020. I plan to mostly walk around and say hello to my former home of twenty years, see the ways it has changed, feel my feelings about it, and eat lots of food that I have missed. I hope you’re enjoying some local delights, wherever you are. If you’re feeling hard up for delights, here’s a picture of my old dog feeling frisky: