Thursday, October 01, 2009

Writing and Place Guest Blog post 2: Miriam's thoughts

As I formulate witty and insightful thoughts in my head about the cultural differences between my new city and Jerusalem, I am bringing you the second in the Writing & Place series of guest blog posts, this one from Miriam Drori, who blogs at An' De Walls Came Tumblin Down. A bit about our guest today: Miriam Drori came to writing late in life, prompted by a passionate desire to be understood and to help others. By profession, she is a writer of a different sort: a technical writer. Miriam lives in Jerusalem with her husband, three children, a cat who walked in one day and a novel that’s straining to get out into the world.

Take it away, Miriam!

TH: Where are you?
MD: In my office, in the fourth residence we have lived in since getting married. Like all the previous ones, it is in Jerusalem, Israel.

TH: How long have you been there?
MD: In this amazingly large and beautiful house with (thanks to my husband) a very special garden: 4 years. In Jerusalem: 31 years. In Israel: 33 years.

the view from Miriam's office

TH: Why are you there?
MD: That's a question I'm often asked, usually by people, in Israel or the UK or elsewhere, who can't understand why anyone would want to leave stable, cool and carefree England to live in a country with ... let's say: problems. And heat. In the past, I replied that I followed my husband-to-be to this place. Which is true, but it's not the whole truth. Another important reason is something I didn't have the knowledge or the words to explain then. It has to do with being in a "hidden" minority and with social anxiety. Social anxiety, very briefly, is a fear of people and especially of what those people think of the sufferer. I caught this disorder while growing up in England, but it could have happened anywhere. Combine that with being in a minority that's not immediately obvious (unless you dress to look the part – and then it helps if you're a man) and life is filled with difficulties. In the place where I am now, I can say "I'm Jewish," without worrying what the other person will think.

TH: What do you write?
MD: I began writing because I want to publicise social anxiety. Because I wish I'd known about it earlier and want others to know as soon as possible. Before that, I didn't think I was able to write anything beyond the technical writing I did for a living. Certainly, I didn't think I could be creative. Having a goal helped me to overcome that hurdle. Now, I write about many things, but I often return to my original topic.

TH: How do you think where you are affects what you write about?
MD: It doesn't – not majorly. I agree with Nik that similar things happen to people everywhere. However, if the story isn't abstract the characters have to be in some place. It's hard to describe a place you've never been to, or to describe living in a place you haven't lived in. I think all my experiences influence what I write about, and the places I've lived in are part of those experiences. I set my first novel in England. I didn't want to set it in Israel, because I felt that readers have certain expectations of novels set in Israel and I didn't want to address those issues. I couldn't have set it in say, America, where I spent a total of 10 days many years ago. Although I was left with a string of superlatives: coldest, strangest, wildest, ... place I've ever been to, I couldn't begin to describe living there.

I like to sit in our garden when I write. I was sitting there when I wrote a short story about an artist, and – guess what – she painted the very scene I was looking at! I think location can give a story character, even though it's not usually the theme of the story.

TH: And how you write?
MD: A tough question – again I agree with Nik. Perhaps it's because I don't know how I write. I don't know how I can be creative after having been certain, for so long, that I'm not a creative person. And I don't know how to describe how my stories are written, in terms of content, and hope that they don't all fit the same pattern or style. I suspect how has something to do with finally growing up and with being able to understand, partly, what's going on in my head. Nothing to do with where I am.

Thank you, Tania, for giving me the opportunity to ramble on. Now I can sit back and read other thoughts on location.
Thank you, Miriam, for sharing your thoughts with us. Nik Perring wrote the first guest blog post on Writing & Place. More  coming soon, let me know if you'd like to contribute.


Nik Perring said...

What an interesting post, thanks for sharing, Miriam - and for the great questions, Tania.

It's nice to see someone agreeing with me - that doesn't happen very often!

Did you find that moving to Israel helped with your anxiety?

All the very best with your writing - is there any way we can see your stories? I'd love to read them.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately - not really. At the beginning, I found that speaking a foreign language made it easier because people attributed my hesitation to language difficulties. Now, that works against me, especially when they think I haven't learnt much of the language after all these years.

I haven't posted any stories yet. Only some silly rhymes so far....

Glad you found the post interesting.

Nik Perring said...

Well, when you do get them published be sure to let us all know!

Sounds like a tricky and frustrating situation to be in re the anxiety. Wishing you all the very best with it.


Anonymous said...

... or without it? Thanks, Nik. ~Miriam

Tania Hershman said...

Thanks Nik for your comments, and Miriam for talking with such honesty. Seems as though writers&language might be another topic!

Rachel Fenton said...

I found this post really fascinating. As someone who chose to be a migrant by relocating to New Zealand - somewhere very similar to the UK, where I'm from, I am keenly aware of the difference in everything and everyone. Difference for me is good/necessary, it is what inspires me as a writer and what makes me feel less of an outsider (which is what I have always felt and is nothing to do with religion, race, belief etc...if anything it is that peculiarity which meant I could only be a writer). I can see how many people from the UK/USA/Australia for eg., see moving to NZ as a way to find difference with a comfortable familiarity. I find anything associated with migrants and otherness really consumes my imagination and interest. I suppose writing is a lot about social science and wanting to understand peopl and their motivations so that we can better understand ourselves. Apologies if this seems a little ramblesd - it is - I have my baby crawling all over me! Really interesting post. Thanks.