If you’ve read my blog for a long time, you’ll know that there are stories I want to tell, but I give many excuses: I’m perpetually blocked, I’m not the writer I thought I was, I just don’t have time. But my favorite excuse is that the story I want to tell isn’t quite ripe yet. That I’m not ready. So what has happened is I’ve put off exploring these ideas for far too long.

In the past, I’ve wanted to revisit and rewrite my manuscript from graduate school. But we write the specific story that we must write — that we have to write — at a particular moment in time, and what I wrote in 2006 isn’t what I want and need to write in 2016.

As I watch San Francisco transform into a place I no longer identify with, and see how the electronic dance music scene evolves, I realize I was on to something with all those ideas I began to explore ten years ago. An inexperienced writer, I remember wanting to make a point, to say what it all meant. I still feel unskilled and naive, but I’ve grown enough to realize that stories live and breathe, and all I can do is resurrect the material and add another layer of perspective.

While this blog has never had a clear focus, and I’ve changed the theme and design too many times, I know for certain — at least — that it is mine, and for this project, I’ll attempt to use it as the experimental, evolving space that I once said it would be.

My manuscript from my MFA program focused on my experiences in the underground rave scene in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1990s. It’s about dancing, drugs, and a particular moment — one that I’ve held onto, both mentally and physically, and will continue to hold onto for as long as I can. I shoved the manuscript in a drawer after I graduated: it was challenging to write, and it’s even more difficult to read. The writing is sophomoric, the structure is chronological and boring, and the subject — girl in her mid-twenties writes about coming of age in a subculture of experimentation and drugs and asks WHY? — is tired and unimaginative.

But like a mentor once told me, every moment of writing counts. This is a window into this world that will soon close forever, my mentor told me, so just write. Write it all. Write what you remember, what you felt, what you wanted. Ten years later, I have 161 pages of this specific perspective on this specific moment, now staring back at me.

“What are you going to do with me?” these pages ask.

I’m not sure, but I’ll use this space to find out.

* * *

I originally wrote this manuscript, which I called Ten Years in a Trance, between 2006 and 2007. It documents my experiences from roughly 1997 to 2001. The year 1997 has always felt special to me — it was a year of many firsts — hence calling this series 1997. I suspect that posts in this series will be all over the place: unedited excerpts, reworked passages, fragments with bits of commentary, or simply pullquotes. I don’t intend, at least in the beginning, to tackle the manuscript in any methodical way — I’ll simply open the book to a random page, dive in, and see what I find.

Through this haphazard process, I’m hoping to quiet the perfectionist, the blocked writer, and the internal editor inside of me and just get to the raw material that I’ve wanted to play with for so long. If this is the way to get me thinking and writing again, so be it.

Any posts from this series will be filed in 1997, accessible in my main menu under Categories. I should note that much of the material is very different from what I normally post, so I apologize in advance if it’s not what you expect to read, but it’s a part of my self that I’ve suppressed for a while, mentioned only in passing on my blog (like here and here). I wasn’t blogging regularly while in my MFA program — and when I did write online, it was primarily at a password-protected Diaryland site. So, aside from workshopping chapters in small groups at my summer residencies, I’ve never really published and tested this writing publicly, on a larger readership. One personal goal is to write about these past experiences in the open without shame or fear, so I hope you’ll excuse me as I find the right balance.

If you’re curious about what to expect, read a post I wrote in 2011, “The End of an Era, the Beginning of the Future (and the Long Moment in Between),” and an essay I published on Cyborgology in 2012, “We Danced to Become Machines.”

Featured image taken at the Gathering’s 23-year anniversary party at the Factory in San Francisco, 2014.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

26 thoughts on “1997

  1. It’s amazing how many excuses we can come up with for why we can’t write, at least just not now. For me the experience of writing is intimidating yet comforting. Writing is like looking into a mirror and saying, “Oh! There you are.” Best of luck on your writing project. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  2. Experimental evolving space. That’s the phrase that stuck with me through the duration of the post. I know what it is to watch something you love become something you don’t identify with any longer. I believe we are always in an experimental evolving space and that the results of our experiments are what shape us.

  3. It is good to reflect on your past. It is what helped shape who you are today. Also, it is amazing to see how differently you think now versus then. When I read back through my high school journals, often it brings up memories that I otherwise may not think of again. I look forward to reading more about your journey!

  4. So true, our can haunt us.. You want to use this material, you want to finish the piece.. because it took such a big part of you and it would all be for nothing if you don’t. But now you no longer identify it, everything you thought then, has changed. How can you just pick up and write in the same style without faking it to the reader. It becomes a dilemma, do you throw it away and admit to the waste of time it was or do you throw the caution away, dive in and get back to that place where you connect to the writing of your past? Good luck 🙂

  5. I kept journals through most of high school and college. But as I grew older they seemed sophomoric and trite to me, so I threw them all out. Now that I’m even older I regret it because they did capture the truth about my life as I saw it at that time — a perspective I will never be able to recapture. I’m so glad you didn’t make the same mistake, Cheri … and I can’t wait to follow along on this journey.

  6. I enjoy your writing in all its forms: tiny house life, shared WordPress posts, travel, all of it … looking forward to 1997!!

  7. “This is a window into this world that will soon close forever, my mentor told me, so just write. Write it all. Write what you remember, what you felt, what you wanted. ”
    Your mentor was right.
    And although you will probably have a hard time to quiet your critical inner voice, this kind of stories is best told raw since they are infused with the strong emotions that we only experience during our youth.
    As for me I’m looking forward to reading 1997. I was already living in the USA but struggling with learning a new language and culture from scratch. I’ll be interested to read more about CA and SF that I certainly saw very differently, due to my origins, my expat experience, and age, too.
    It will be a great window that can show how the deep changes that transformed SF and somewhat CA at large happened so slowly that we didn’t pay attention until they were in our face.
    Best to you, Cheri.

  8. I didn’t discover my love for writing until I was already in my early 50’s, and it’s a treasure that you have a piece of work to look back on. I’ll be eager to read 1997.

  9. “…resurrect the material and add another layer of perspective.” I think this is a smart thing to do. The changes that can happen in one’s life in a decade can definitely change the way one views the past. It will be interesting to juxtapose oneself in the past and in the present. Best of luck.

  10. If your experience on the blogisphere is anything like mine I bet you’ll be faced with a ton of pleasantly surprising support. In my case, I applaud your bravery in facing your younger, more naive self. There is no better way to get slapped in the face with that than to read what we wrote back then! :/ If you’re like me it will be embarrassing at parts but worth it to catch a glimpse of a moment in time where emotions were so much more distilled. We had wisdom back then that we need to be reminded of.

  11. Kudos for choosing to embrace the discomfort. I can definitely relate to that sense of unpreparedness and uncertainty. My usual response is to step back under the familiar shelter of contemplation/procrastination. There’s a John Updike quote I came across once that I try to keep in mind, ‘we write by faith,’ he said. I always find it helpful to find that others, no matter how talented they are, still experience this kind of struggle when they write.

    1. “Embrace the discomfort” — I like that! That’s pretty much how I felt 10 years ago, as I wrote this. My final mentor in my program told me that I needed to rework everything I had thus far and make me the narrator and central character — to focus on me, my story, my experiences in order to bring this world to life. (Up until that point, the draft read more like an essay or piece of literary reportage, and I wasn’t the central focus.) It was uncomfortable to write. Going into my MFA program I had no idea that I was to ultimately spend my time writing a juvenile, confessional memoir.

      But anyway, I like that phrase, which I’ll remember now as I explore these ideas again. Because ultimately, I’m grateful to be able to look back on what I wrote.

  12. Bravo to you for moving forward with your writing and how wonderful that you plan to share your experiences with those of us who follow your blog. As a fellow writer….sometimes full on, other times so random it isn’t really worth the bother, I am blocked. Now I simply write as if I am in a conversation. I find it easier to let it all flow and have a bit of fun along the way. So I applaud your bravery and your talent. I look forward to reading what you share.

  13. Best of luck to you on your writing project.
    I know how hard it is to go back and rework something. It’s hard and you’re not quite sure where to begin, what fits, and what doesn’t. I look forward to seeing it though because it sounds interesting.

  14. There are some things here that really resonate, Cheri. It’s amazing the rationalizations we can come up with for not writing, whether it be ripeness or readiness. In opposition to that is letting go of the stories one thinks they should tell. It’s my first novel draft that I can never seem to shake or move on from – the perfectionist in me insists that if I just work on it some more, I’ll have something. It’s become clear to me, that letting go is equally important as digging in – the real trick is figuring out which one works for you in any given moment. I look forward to reading some fearless writing here.

    1. Simply adding footnotes to a chapter excerpt — which I did in today’s post — was an easy, relatively painless way to “interact” with the material again. All these years, I’ve had it in my head that the only way to revisit the draft was to get super-serious, sit down, and rewrite it. That’s the bit of the romantic writer in me, I suppose, and all that has done is paralyzed me from writing at all (or just thinking about writing).

      So I’m feeling good about trying this — letting it breathe here, on my blog — and seeing what lingering ideas come out of it, and also seeing how people might respond or ask questions in a way that might help me figure out a new direction.

      Thanks for reading.

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