On a panel about memoir at the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference this past March, Stephen Elliott loosely quoted Michelangelo:
I carve to set the angel free.
And now, months later, the quote—which originally read “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”—finally makes sense.
A few years ago, I kept trying to write (the one)(the only)(the one to negate a need for any future) essay about my complicated Russian-American identity, my dual nature, about growing up as the only American-born child in a Soviet émigré household. Around the same time, I was trying to write (the one)(the only)(the one to negate a need for any future) essay to explain my complicated relationship with Judaism.
In Boston (the host city for this year’s AWP), our conference hotel was off the Green Line ‘T.’ Like that line—sometimes more like a surface-running bus, sometimes more like a train—I can pass in two worlds. Yet I (often)(always) feel like an outsider. A writer watching on the sidelines. Eileen Myles once told me, “In all your travels, you feel like an alien, don’t you?”
It occurred to me that there (doesn’t have to be)(can’t be)(shouldn’t be) only one essay from me on either of those subjects. Those are stories that need to be told, like an angel clawing its way out of marble. I need to carve away at them little by little, from different angles, with different tools, to set some stories free. New anecdotes and pieces of evidence will surface and accumulate as I live longer and find new ways to write.
I feel freed and a bit unbound.