Brief Craft Essay by Kerry Cohen


Kerry Cohen is my latest dose of inspiration. I particularly enjoyed her essay in the craft section of the latest Brevity.

Cohen is talking about being abused as a young girl, but also acknowledging how hard it is to accept that she enjoyed those feelings and even came to chase after those feelings. I can completely relate to this from my own adolescent experience experimenting with sex. Her memoir is about promiscuity, and in some ways it is not the same as what my experience was (adolescent boys are rarely considered promiscuous, and I’m not sure I’d classify my experience as abuse, but when you mix adults, adolescents, and sex, the results are always bound to be a little dodgy). Yet this perverse sense of shame for enjoying something so physical seems very familiar.

I am trying to write a childhood memoir myself. It is very slow going. I have actually had to set it aside for now because it just seems too big to tackle, and too hard to get a firm handle on. But I often think about picking it back up and essays like this one give me a certain amount of encouragement, a certain amount of hope.

Here is the link to Cohen’s latest memoir, “Loose Girl, a memoir of promiscuity.”

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6 thoughts on “Brief Craft Essay by Kerry Cohen

  1. Michelle says:

    Hey Tim — have you read Breath, by Tim Winton? It’s fiction, but a stunning portrayal of a coming of age story which involves a youth/adult relationship. Your discussion here reminded me of it. -Michelle

  2. Tim Elhajj says:

    I haven’t read Breath or anything by Tim Winton, but perhaps I should. I’m really interested in coming of age stories, but I mostly read memoir these days. One day I plan to do a series of coming of age reviews of my favorites here on the blog–Wolff, Crews, Conroy. I’m sure there are more.

    Maybe we can figure out what makes a good one tick.

  3. Barry says:

    Hi, Tim

    Your concerns about being overwhelmed with your project struck a chord.

    There were times when doing Charlie’s story, Crack! and Thump, that I would put it aside for months because I felt overwhelmed. What finally spurred my sustained effort was my wife’s offhand question as to how I would feel if Charlie died before I finished his story…

    Maybe you should ask yourself how you would feel if you died without finishing yours. A truthful answer might tell you how to proceed.

    Best of luck.


  4. Tim Elhajj says:

    Hey Barry, Thanks for the encouragement!

    I do find it motivating to acknowledge that if I don’t write it, it won’t get written. I actually want to write three different stories before I leave this earth: a childhood memoir, a recovery memoir, and another story about my experience in the Navy. The good news is that I have started the recovery memoir. I’ve actually been working on it for about a year, and I am planning to post an update about it shortly, and reveal it to the world, just as soon as I can find some time. I’m excited because I have a fully formed idea, an outline, and even a proposal I am sending around. I’m about one-third of the way through the project. Oddly today I was inspired to use my daily writing time to work on a completely different story (the Navy story). I don’t even know how that happened. I was driving to work and suddenly felt inspired to tell this particular story in a certain way.

    The thing with the childhood memoir is this: I struggled to even acknowledge that I was stuck. I used to feel that I had to work on one novel at a time, until it was complete. This drove me to tinker with the same chapters over and over. Work on outlines. Read books on how to organize a memoir. I even hired professionals. I came to the conclusion that if the story isn’t there—if the basic idea for how to bring all the elements together to relate the experience I want to explore—well, than, it’s just not there. No amount of sage advice from books or hired guns is going to help. I am certain there is a story in my childhood experience. I am just not sure how to bring it all together, how to present it.

    This is why I found Cohen’s experience so encouraging. She could have taken the easy road and just presented herself as the victim. Instead she knew in her heart that wasn’t the truth she wanted to tell. Why did it take her so long to realize what she truly wanted to write about? I have no idea. But I trust that if I remain open to what my muse is trying to tell me, I’ll eventually understand, just as Kerry Cohen eventually came to understand her story.

    Now my feeling is that I am better off taking my inspiration as it comes. If I get a strong impulse to go back to my childhood memoir, I am going to do it. But if I don’t, I’m going to work on something else. I’m not going to worry or beat my breast. I’m going to trust that the ideas are going to come to me, exactly when they’re supposed to. Meanwhile, I’m going to pay attention to the ideas I have today.

  5. […] I have tried with varying amounts of success to write about this experience before. I have always known I would write about it again one day, but I probably wouldn’t have attempted it this time around were it not for a brief craft essay written by Kerry Cohen that appeared on Brevity early this year (discussed here). […]

  6. […] Bussel edits. I went to see her at Elliott Bay when she was promoting Best Sex Writing 2010 with Kerry Cohen and the amazing Janet […]

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