Like many writers, I started as a child with poetry, mostly moody tomes about the shape of loneliness. In my late adolescence and twenties, I got involved with the New York poetry “scene” – took workshops with well-known poets, started a magazine with some like-minded students, and moved into NYC from New Jersey. I have the classic bulging scrapbook of rejections, but “still, she persisted” (!) and started to publish in small journals and magazines. I won some awards, and did a stint at BreadLoaf. The mountains were gorgeous and we all got strep throat that year. I kept writing and submitting poetry, but couldn’t quite get a collection together or win a competition. Felt a bit defeated and hated networking. Decided I needed a “real” career and went to Smith College School for Social Work and then did a fellowship at Yale and started my private practice as a psychotherapist. I wrote and published essays in a few clinical journals, and writing poetry started to recede. But for multiple decades now, writing has continued to be a part of me. I’ve written and published essays in anthologies, and online. In 2010 I realized a life-long dream: I published a book – a memoir of my unexpected and unusual foray as a middle-aged woman into the world of….boxing!! Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind (SUNY Press, 2010) led to covering some boxing matches, attending Gleason’s Fantasy Boxing Camp; lots of adventures, and it led to more writing, with pieces in The Forward, and articles about the book.
The “what”of my creativity also includes my life-long involvement with independent radio. I host a music and interview show, “A Miniature World,” on an alternative, non-commercial station, WPKN, 89.5FM, and wpkn.org. I create short audio essays. I love the thrill of combining spoken word with a musical piece that fits. Nothing else feels like that. I love giving other authors an opportunity for a long-form interview, when I have the time and opportunity.
My older sisters are both writers, and my father was a frustrated journalist who took a job as a traveling candy salesman to support the family. I was never particularly talented in the visual arts, only had a very enthusiastic appreciation of them. Films were always a great source of inspiration to me. I’m often inspired by memories, people, and events that I’m haunted by—I am pulled along by questions that have unsatisfying answers, or no answers at all. With memoir, I never know exactly where I’m going at first, or what I will discover. I love when there is research involved. I get lost in it.
My work in audio led to a big change in my focus – I produced (and recently launched) a six-episode audio memoir, Ten Days in Newark.
There’s a little engine inside me, always churning. When it pushes me to produce something, I have a satisfying feeling that gives my life more meaning. Sometimes I have a feeling of conviction that I have something to say. When that resonates with other people, it is an exquisitely satisfying, like the comfort I myself feel when reading works by writers who move me. I read voraciously and fast. I am awed by people who can write fiction, because I am not terribly good with structure.
Fortunately, with this recent PODCAST project, I had a collaborator who is extremely good with structure, and has the kind of synthetic overview mind that I need to ground me. That it happened to be my husband of 28 years was a complete surprise. He is also a musician and audio producer (we met at WPKN), and we have done some experimental collaborations, but nothing as involved and extensive as Ten Days in Newark. Together we went on a detective mission – to answer the questions about first love, first heartbreak, and radical politics of the 1960s that had particularly haunted me. His generosity and patience amazed me. Could I have done a project that was partly focused on my husband’s first love? No way. I’m the jealous type.
I only have discipline at various stages of a project. I don’t write everyday. I’m more of a sprinter. For poetry, it’s a first line that will come to me, and then I’m off and running – revising, revising, crafting. With memoir, especially a long one, I’ll write whenever I’m so moved. It can be at 7 am, 3 am; it’s never regular. Since I have a career as a psychotherapist, and a radio show to produce 2x a month (I recently scaled back from every week), the creative writing has to fit around those things. When writing “Blows,” I remember making considerable changes often because I was trying to incorporate some historical grounding and background to my personal adventure in boxing. So I’d re-write and insert chapters, and then I would need to read the whole thing again, from start to finish, to see if and how it flowed. I don’t use an outline. It’s like a wave you’re constantly trying to shape, or like carving something out of a tree. That’s the marathon time.
Ten Days in Newark took at least 2&1/2 years. We were interviewing people, sometimes by phone, sometimes in person. I did a considerable amount of research back into the 1960s, Weequahic High School, the Newark riots, and other events surrounding my experience of young love. When fellow Weequahic alum and chronicler of the Newark world Philip Roth died, I wrote this piece.
As I work on getting this podcast out there (it’s a jungle!), I wonder whether in fact it has the potential to become a book – another memoir. It would have to be expanded. The transcript of the audio (which we hired someone to do) is around 70 pages. There’s a lot of tantalizing material that was left out of the podcast for a variety of reasons. But do I want to stay with this material? In this world that is essentially the past, and caused me a lot of pain? The brilliant Mary Karr, in The Art of Memoir, urges writers not to go too deep into the past if it’s possibly going to cause some sort of breakdown. “Memory is a pinball machine,” she writes, “—it messily ricochets around between image, idea, fragments of scenes, stories you’ve heard…a single image can split open the hard seed of the past.” In other words, strap in! It may be a bumpy ride.
Or should I refresh and go on to something completely different? I speak often about creativity with my sister/ author Susan Bordo (The Creation of Anne Boleyn, The Destruction of Hillary Clinton and many other books). We’ve been brainstorming about collaborating on a book of essays and have started to experiment with a few—kind of a sisters letting it all hang out—about aging, bodies, relationships, and culture. So far we’re laughing and enjoying. She just came out of publishing an intensely political book, and might welcome the change. I think maybe we need a retreat….good coffee, wood-burning stove, chuckling brook….
Binnie Klein is the author of a critically-acclaimed memoir, Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind. Essays have appeared in The Clinical Social Work Journal, Psychoanalytic Perspectives, Seneca Review, Sports Literate, How Does that Make You Feel: True Confessions from Both Sides of the Couch, Twilight Zones, Places Through the Body, and on Huffington Post and Medium. Her latest project is a 6 episode audio-memoir PODCAST, Ten Days in Newark –available on iTunes, Stitcher, and at www.tendaysinnewark.com.
“A graceful, deft celebration of body and soul. Brava to Binnie Klein for tapping her strength—physical, emotional, and spiritual—and for telling a knockout of a personal story.”–Janet Carlson, Quick Before the Music Stops: How Ballroom DancingSaved my Life
“…Binnie Klein’s wonderful tale of change is one of the most unusual stories ever told, one of how she reinvented her own wheel through the sport of boxing and turns around to gaze at the remote past and of what the future holds for her.”–Bert Randolph Sugar, Boxing’s Greatest Fighters
“…elegantly literary, funny, philosophical, moving, and endlessly intriguing….it’s a wonderful discovery.”–Katharine Weber, Still Life With Monkey
“…an absorbing example of investigatory and explanatory journalism. .Those who lived through the period but now have sketchy recall, and those who wish to learn about those times from actual participants, will find this podcast both educational and touching.”–Peter Gambaccini, Bruce Springsteen
“This intimate memoir is fascinating, honest, and will be familiar with anyone lived through the sixties. Others will relate to it, too. How Important are our early touchstone relationships!”–Fran Dorf, Saving Elijah
“Strong and nostalgic but not at all sentimental. Wonderful voice, evocative guitar.”–Daniel Menaker, My Mistake
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of the award-winning novel In the Context of Love, a story about one woman’s need to tell her truth without shame.
2017 New Apple Book Awards Official Selection
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist
2016 USA Book News Best Book Finalist
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage