Interview: Nan Fink Gefen

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF WRITING IN YOUR LIFE?

Writing takes me to the place of greatest truth within myself.

During the years when I was raising a family and working, I didn’t know this. But I knew that something was missing, a way of expressing myself. My first inkling of the power of writing was in graduate school. I loved crafting language into something that made sense and had its own beauty.

After that, I began to write short nonfiction pieces, and eventually, two nonfiction books. The subject matter excited me, but even more, I loved finding words within myself and putting them together in a way that aesthetically pleased me And then I discovered fiction writing, which awakened my imagination and took me to new levels of satisfaction.

If I don’t write regularly, I feel that something is missing. I am less known to myself and therefore less knowable.

 

HOW AND WHEN DO YOU WRITE?

My best time for writing is in the afternoon, when I’m in a dreamier state. I like to take care of my in-the-world commitments in the morning, but as the day goes by, I become more mellow and reflective.

I write on the computer. When I began writing seriously in the late eighties, I was working at Tikkun magazine and we did everything on the computer. I developed ease in writing this way. There are tradeoffs—sometimes I miss the satisfaction of handwriting, and it’s easier to be sloppy on the computer—but this is the groove into which I’ve settled. Sometimes I like to type with my eyes closed because that helps me reach words and thoughts that aren’t so accessible. That’s hard to do with pen and paper!

 

WHAT ABOUT WRITING OBSTACLES?

Writing sometimes scares me and makes me anxious. This happens when I’m working on material that touches an unexplored part of me or I worry that I can’t do it right. When this happens, I can find any number of ways to put off sitting down and doing it.

I overschedule myself and end up with not enough writing time.  Or I spend too much time straightening up around the house, making lists, seeing people, writing emails. When I’m procrastinating like this, I can get into a self-critical state.

But I’ve learned that these “down” times are necessary for my writing process. Even if I’m not directly thinking about what I’ll write, the wheels are turning. I’m gaining strength to move ahead.

 

YOUR BOOKS ARE VERY DIFFERENT FROM EACH OTHER. IS THERE ANY COMMON THREAD?

I’d say that each book has to do with going deeper into the self and becoming more authentic. The memoir, my first book, focuses on my becoming a Jew—which means claiming the identity that feels most true to me.  The second book, the book on Jewish meditation, teaches others how to go to the place within that is the core of all being. The novel, Clear Lake, is the story of one woman’s search for the courage to change her life, which requires her to go to the depths of what she’s experiencing. And the most recent book, It Never Ends, explores the truth of mothers’ hopes, yearnings, disappointments, and pleasures in their relationships with their midlife daughters.

 

WHAT DO YOU HAVE IN MIND FOR THE FUTURE?

I love writing fiction, but the next book I have in mind is one on breath—how we think of it, what it has represented through the centuries, the many different kinds of breath, and how they are used in spiritual or body practices. Breathing difficulties run in my family, so the book also will include memoir material about the experience of impaired breath and the life shifts that come from this. It’s a far-ranging subject, one which I very much look forward to exploring.

Above my desk I have a framed quote from Emily Dickinson, written in beautiful script with a stamp-sized picture of her.  It says: “After the first book, she thought in ecstasy ‘This then is a book! And there are more of them!’” This quote inspires me to continue.