This is How I Speak
by Sandi Sonnenfeld


Impassio Press, June 2002. ISBN 0971158312.
Reviewed by Catherine Cogburn
Posted on 06/05/2002

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Creative Life; Teen/Girls

This is the story of a young woman making her way through her first year in a graduate creative writers' program at the University of Washington in the '80s. It is a dramatic and engaging tale told through the structure of her diary of a woman coming into herself, and the healing that can occur if we take full advantage of the traumas we endure.

She carefully crafts her story of coming to the opposite end of the country for her graduate work in writing, due more to her incomplete relationship with a dance instructor than for any devotion to the MFA program she is accepted into. By following the dance instructor, she disconnects herself from friends and family. Still tied to her dreams of being a professional dancer even though she had publicly disavowed it, she seemingly commits herself to life as a writer, yet still hopes for validation from the teacher that she has value as a dancer. She flirts with dating an unavailable man, longs for him, resents his distance, and in doing so remains inaccessible to herself as well as others. This theme of the conflict between one's inner world and the pressure to interact or be dependent on the outer world for validation continues throughout.

When she suffers a betrayal at the hand of a friend, what is attacked inside her is the vulnerable beginning of a true Self--more devastating than the attack on her physical self. The telling of this part of the story is restrained, the meaning as well as the facts withheld from the reader, until the story moves further along, until we are more prepared to fully perceive the meaning of the trauma with her. Her choice of slowly revealing the text and subtexts of the event are more revealing of her character than is the actual step-by-step healing she accomplishes. She allows this trauma to inform her of what she needs to do to be a fully realized human, a woman of character.

In defending her passion for novels over short stories, she says, "Character is what I care about. Characters who change and grow and interact with others."

And she allows us inside her, inside this seminal year, to observe and be moved by her character's change and growth and a deepening of her interaction with the outside world. She interweaves her growth away from dependence on the dance teacher with her integration of the meaning and depth of trauma of the attack in a masterful way, a way that truly utilizes real life in art for the purpose of healing, herself as well as her audience.

This is a powerful memoir of a woman coming into herself and claiming her space in this world, creating the experiences that lead her to finally realize what it is "to be alone and without pain."

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