Esther Cohen

My writing process blog tour
My Writing Process Blog Post

Gracious gifted rhythmic poet Ruth Thompson, a woman in touch with earth and spirit ,

who makes poems out of her body, poems out of the world she lives in, she invited me to

join this process, to participate in thinking about and writing about why I write, and what.

Ruth answered these same questions last week, as did many invited writers. Ruth and I met in 2011 at one of the most beautiful

places on earth: Ghost Ranch, in New Mexico – a peculiar Presbyterian non-resort with

food that isn’t quite food, and more sky than you’ve ever seen in your life. We were both

at AROHO (a room of her own) a bi-annual writing retreat for women where we, because

of the sky, because of the words, because of reasons we will never know, we all

connected in a way that is unusual and lasting. I am not a nature type. I life in a small rent

stabilized apartment in New York City, a place I deeply and totally belong. I do not hike

or long to hike, do not camp or canoe or kayak, have never jogged even once. I climb no

mountains ever. And yet. This is one of those sentences with an And Yet. I completely

and totally fell in love with the space that is Ghost Ranch, the mornings and afternoons,

and then, those evenings, where life became sky.


That’s one of those (almost AA) questions. That requires an answer that isn’t entirely

authentic, and begins, the way everyone always does, with these words. Right Now.

Right Now I am WORKING ON something important, something that could be GOOD

or Good Enough, something hopeful or despairing, historical or ahistorical. I am always

working on more than one thing, one inelegant incomplete thing. It’s nearly always

difficult because I’m NEVER SURE I can say what I want, and never sure what I want to

say is really and truly relevant or interesting or good enough. It’s Usually a novel (in

fact I have been working on an impossible interminable novel for too many years to tell

you about, a novel about places, about love, about middle age, about social classes that

define life choices as absolute ideology, artisanal bread versus packaged white, about the

illusions we all have, illusions that of course fall apart. My illusions fall apart, not in a

Shakespearean way, but in the small daily life way of personal betrayal.The novel is

called Middlefield, like Middlemarch, but not. Middlemarch is a novel I’ve read many

times. I’m working on a book of poems that are sort of prayers, maybe called I’m getting

older. And I am always always working on stories. Telling stories, writing them, seeking

them out wherever I go. I don’t work in a linear way. My words come out in more of a

circle. Most of the time they emerge as Just Words but every once in a while, maybe

every one hundred sentences, or one thousand sentences, who can tell, I actually say

something that is real and true, that comes from someplace deep and unexpected, that is

not trying too hard to be anything at all, thatbreathes and shouts and most importantly,



I wish I could say that my sentences are nothing like any sentences you’ve ever read.

(Have you read many of those? Except for Jeannette Winterson? Can you read

a whole book by Jeannette Winterson? As wonderful as her sentences are.)

My work is the same and different from everyone else. That is, I don’t have a genre

really unless it is Funnyish Secular New Yorki Jewish Getting Older Woman. I am not

an expert. I do not have a field like Jews or Women or Sociology. I am a person

who loves words and writing, but I do not have a crossword puzzle vocabulary. I don’t

win games, and don’t have any particular amazing skills. I love words, and love to write

almost everything. I even like writing lists on a piece of paper, like how the words look (I

write everything by hand. Maybe my handwriting is my genre. I carve letters, and they go

from inside me to outside. I don’t know what I mean by that.) Once when I was young

and much moreI’m sorry to say pretentious I said I was a word painter.


What I write is anything that connects my heart with my hand. That is, I try hard to

hear and feel and see and sometimes understand (though understanding isn’t as important

as feeling) the rich complicated funny incomprehensible lives that exist around me,

everywhere. I am always always looking, and listening.

One of my biggest loves (that is, my biggest equivalent love up there other big loves) is

stories. Good stories. Not so so stories where you think to yourself I Wish This

Were Over but stories that could last forever. My Rumanian grandmother, Anna Sorocor

was my narrative role model. She would arrive from California to visit us for a week and

she would start a story especially for me, usually featuring the life of a relative. Aunt

Tillie being one of my perennial favorites when she got off the plane and that story had

so many amazing daily details (her outfits, her love life, her lack of love life, her two

daughters who had disasters and victories). I could never get enough, and the story would

progress through her entire visit. Over the course of my lifetime I have heard so many

incredible stories, and I write to tell these stories for you.

I write poems, novels, stories, essays. I write any way I can. When I am lucky, I write

what is deep and true.


And the other part of this question, How does my writing process not work?

I write when I sit down with my red or grey or black notebook, or when I sit down with

my computer, or whenever I finally sit down, because I am a wanderer more than a sitter.

The place doesn’t much matter to me. I am not place sensitive. I can write on a bench or

in a restaurant, a diner or a train or a bus. I can write at my desk. I have a desk,

a real desk, cluttered with paraphernalia that I like to refer to as evocative objects but

those are large words for the peculiar pens and talismans that accompany me there. I do

not do anything the same time every day.


Well one way I have been Very Very Lucky is in the people I’ve met on my path. So

many people. Some I’d like to see every day, including these four writers.

Breena Clarke and I met in New Mexico at AROHO. We were both unusual in the

New Mexico landscape. Breena was smart enough to make coffee in her room. I was not.

She is a large writer, gifted and complex. She takes on large historical subjects, in her

Three historical novels. ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE is her new book, out in

July, about an imagined mixed-race community in 19th century New Jersey. It’s amazing.

Dania Rajendra is a person you would like to drink Scotch with, or anything else,

as often as possible. We are both labor movement activists. She says about herself that

she crafts social justice strategy by day and dinner, dessert, and literary offerings. She is a

HinJew (Hindu Jew) and native New Yorker, but she’s lived everywhere. Dania now

lives in Brooklyn, and works with worker justice movements and creative nonfiction, but

she is often visiting other places, movements, and genres.

Susan Merson and I met this year at the flea market across from my apartment. It was one

of those real and instant friendships. She’s a master teacher of the creative process, a

successful actress and director. She’s actually bicoastal. She’s the founder and producing

artistic director of New York Theater Intensives, and she teaches writing at Cal State. She

writes plays and books, and helps others do the same.

Joanna Herman and I have been good friends for many years. A master teacher of

literature and writing, Joanna knows, in a real and unusual way, how to live. I asked

her to join this blog so everyone would know about her wonderful new book of stories,

NO LONGER AND NOT YET, stories about the lives that Joanna deeply understands.
She’s an Italian American woman for whom the art forms of reading, writing and
teaching are just as important as cooking, eating and drinking good wine.

Where Have I been?

Who knows.

I will say this. 10,000 people (who are they? who are you? how do you find me? and then, how do I find you?) have come to visit, have written me. I haven’t posted their notes, although I’ve read many of them, but find what they say what you say so mysterious. I will try this again. I really will. I hope.


We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

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