Got the Girl Scouts' Writer badge (the only one that interested me) when I was 12: that signaled the future. I began writing fiction, but discovered that what really compelled me was literary nonfiction—especially once I developed a way to use a central image as a method of analysis.
An image constrains and focuses thoughts while still allowing great freedom in moving around within it: you can come at your material from many different directions without losing coherence, since the analysis acquires its form from the structure of the image.
I used this method for both my literary nonfiction books:
• For The Women Outside, a study of homeless and marginal women, it was the figure of the witch.
• For Slaying the Mermaid, about women and self-sacrifice, it was Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid.
Literary nonfiction didn't pay the rent, but I like writing books, so I became a book collaborator and wrote five other books with experts.
And since for a freelancer diversifying = security, I started writing all sorts of other things: magazine articles, newsletters, reports for nonprofits, grant proposals, training manuals, and lately websites.
Years ago, a panelist at an academic seminar I attended, in response to a question I asked, recommended a book called "The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci" by Jonathan D. Spence. It was an academic study of Jesuit missionaries in China in the 16th and 17th centuries. Each chapter of this book is focused around a specific image as expressed by a Chinese character. For me this was a confirmation that you could organize a book around images. Spence didn't actually do this the way I planned to, but his book was still a great support. Both my solo-authored books (I've also written five collaborations) are organized around a central image.
I'm conceptualizing a new project about American individualism and the concept of the self, but it's still in the early stages.
University of California Press
Insight Meditation Society, Barre, MA
Brooklyn for Peace
New York Insight Meditation Center
Coalition for the Homeless
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