Catching Up to the Stories Inside

Catching Up to the Stories Inside

Catching Up to the Stories Inside

I recently went to see A Star is Born at the movies: the remake with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Bradley Cooper directs and also plays the lead male character, Jackson Maine – a singer/songwriter and alcoholic.

The morning after seeing the film, I read a New York Times article about Cooper and the movie. Here’s an extract from the article:

“In 2011 Clint Eastwood talked to Cooper about the role of Jackson Maine. But Cooper was hesitant. He was 36; he didn’t think he could play someone that weathered. ‘I knew I would be acting my balls off to try to be what that character was, because I was just too – I just hadn’t lived enough, I just knew it,’ he said.”

Later that year, Cooper went home to take care of his father, who was dying from lung cancer… Cooper held his father in his arms when he took his last breath. In that moment, everything changed for the actor.

By 2015, he felt ready to play the role (of Jackson Maine) in A Star is Born. Now he looked in the mirror and saw it. “Honestly,” Cooper said. “I could see it on my face. I just felt it.”

A few weeks ago, I was trawling through notes to help me start writing a chapter in my book, and I came across a questionnaire Joanne Fedler had asked me to fill out before she started mentoring me – way back in July 2013. The first question on the form was ‘What are you writing or what would you like to write about?’ And right in front of me was a one-liner I’d written which summarises EXACTLY the book I’m writing now. Not the one I started a year ago, but the one I started in October, because the first one wasn’t working.

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About Elana

 

Elana Benjamin is a writer, qualified lawyer and mother of two. Her work has been published in Good Weekend, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday Life, Essential Kids, Debrief Daily (now Mamamia), SBS Life and the Jewish Book Council blog. She’s also the author of the memoir/history My Mother’s Spice Cupboard: A Journey from Baghdad to Bombay to Bondi (Hybrid Publishers, 2012).

And it struck me that like Bradley Cooper, who wasn’t ready to play the part of Jackson Maine in A Star is Born until 2015, I wasn’t ready to write my story back when I filled out that form. Five years ago, I just couldn’t have written that book. I had to learn the craft of writing. I needed time to process my experiences, get some distance from them, and make sense of them on a deeper level. I had to live more. And I had to write more.

I’m not suggesting that anyone else needs five years before they write their books. But I would compare it to being sure that you want to be a mother, or a doctor, when you’re just 10 years old. You have to live many years before you can begin to realise such visions. And in the meantime, you have to be patient and never lose sight of your dreams.

I haven’t been doing nothing in the intervening years (and nor did Cooper – he acted in other movies and a stage play after 2012). All along, I’ve been reading and writing and taking notes and listening to podcasts and working and raising my kids and living my life.

Now I am ready to write my story, the one I knew I wanted to write back in 2013. I can, as Bradley Cooper says, “just feel it.”

Sometimes, our lives have to catch up with the stories that are deep inside us, that we somehow know we must tell but perhaps aren’t ready to yet – because we are scared, or don’t have the tools or the hindsight we need. In the meantime, we just need to keep living and writing.

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

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“You should share all your work on social,” an editor told me firmly, some years ago. And from then on, I did. Every time one of my articles was published, I dutifully posted a link to Facebook. And each time I felt miserable, as I anxiously awaited the dopamine-inducing ping of a ‘like’ or ‘share’.

It wasn’t just that one editor’s comment. My writing mentor also insisted that my social media profile was essential to getting my work out into the world. I needed to build my Personal Brand, as if I was the next Dyson, or Ben & Jerry’s. But to me, constructing my own brand felt like corporate-speak for what was really Shameless Self-Promotion.

My writing mentor admonished me when I told her how conflicted I felt. When you share your writing, you give people the chance to be touched and feel something, she emailed. Sharing your work is a gift to others, not about ego or self-promotion.

But still, I struggled.

You see in real life, I’m an introvert. I’ve always preferred having a few close friends to being part of a large group. And I don’t like being the centre of attention. But posting links to my stories on Facebook and LinkedIn catapults me right into the limelight. This leaves me feeling exposed and vulnerable, like I’ve turned up naked to a fancy dress party.

Despite my aversion to sharing my work on social, I couldn’t help myself. After posting a link to one of my articles, I’d compulsively check my Facebook page, as if a ‘like’ or ‘share’ made me happier, or a better person (it didn’t). But while I was thrilled by the positive feedback, I was deeply troubled by the ‘friends’ who stayed silent. Why hadn’t cousin Sophia ‘liked’ my article, especially when she’d ‘liked’ cousin Katie’s holiday snaps, posted just minutes earlier?

.

About Elana

 

Elana Benjamin is a writer, qualified lawyer and mother of two. Her work has been published in Good Weekend, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday Life, Essential Kids, Debrief Daily (now Mamamia), SBS Life and the Jewish Book Council blog. She’s also the author of the memoir/history My Mother’s Spice Cupboard: A Journey from Baghdad to Bombay to Bondi (Hybrid Publishers, 2012).

My Facebook feed, I realised, was tapping into my deepest insecurities. My fears of failure. Of rejection. Of embarrassing myself. And, perhaps most importantly, my need to be liked. I tried repeating author Steven Pressfield’s mantra: “You are not the work.” Logically, I knew this was true.  But I had difficulty separating myself from my words.

My ambivalent feelings towards social media continued for years until a few months ago, when I decided to conduct a little experiment. I’d had an article published online but decided not to share it on social. My words were in the public domain, but some of the most important people in my life didn’t know.  This felt lonely, like spending a birthday without family or friends. And I realised that by trying to shield myself from vulnerability, I was missing out on one of the most joyous parts of writing: interacting with readers.

After that, I called a ceasefire in my battle with online platforms. I still find that sharing my writing on social media dissipates my energy, but I’ve learned to tolerate the discomfort.  When I post one of my published pieces to Facebook or LinkedIn, I accept that I’ll probably feel destabilised for a day or so, like I’m on a roller-coaster ride. I force myself away from my screen, and go for a walk or a swim. Or I bake scones to eat with my kids when they get home from school.  Anything to help me feel more grounded.

These days, I know that even if people read one of my articles, they’ll soon move on to the next story. And then it will just be me and my laptop again. So I try to enjoy the fleeting moments when I connect with readers, knowing that all I can control is what I write, not how other people react. I focus on the feedback that I do get, instead of zeroing in on those virtual bystanders who don’t respond to my posts. And over time, I’ve learned to disentangle my self-esteem from the success (or lack thereof) of my writing.

Yes, social media can feel like a very public popularity contest. But Facebook and other platforms are gold when it comes to spreading our stories. The trick, I’ve learned, is to use social media as a tool to serve our individual needs as writers. We must look confidently at our Facebook and LinkedIn feeds and be clear – just as my son told me defiantly when he was four – that “You are not the boss of me.” And know that regardless of what happens in cyberspace, our worth as humans in the real world remains intact.  

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

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In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.

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