Monday, March 24, 2014


Like lawyers, writers seek consistency; they make a case for their point of view; they do so by leaving out some evidence; but let me mention the hundreds of sandwiches my mother made during my elementary school years, the peanut butter sandwiches I ate alone on school benches in the open, throwing the crusts into the air where the seagulls would swoop to catch them before they hit the ground. When my friends began to have babies and I came to comprehend the heroic labor it takes to keep one alive, the constant exhausting tending of a being who can do nothing and demands everything, I realized that my mother had done all these things for me before I remembered. I was fed; I was washed; I was clothed; I was taught to speak and given a thousand other things, over and over again, hourly, daily, for years. She gave me everything before she gave me nothing...

I was distant. I studied her, I pondered her. My survival depended on mapping her landscape and finding my routes out of it. We are all the heroes of our own stories, and one of the arts of perspective is to see yourself small on the stage of another’s story, to see the vast expanse of the world that is not about you, and to see your power, to make your life, to make others, or break them, to tell stories rather than be told by them.
from Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Friday, March 14, 2014

To Read or Not to Read? And More...

Shadow Cut, January 2014
 I think we can all ethically agree that, unless strong circumstances call on us to do otherwise, people's journals are off limit to others' eyes. But what about after they die?

This article in the Opinionator column in the NYT is wonderful. It explores "the other side" of memoir/journals/diaries - do we read those of people we love who've died? Do we want those who outlive us to read ours?

It brings to mind the opening of Terry Tempest Williams' memoir When Women Were Birds, in which she finally opens all the journals her mother left her, only to find they are...blank. My god. To think all that was not, ever, written.

And then, questions not addressed, but significant for those who write memoir:
If we write an official version of memoir, do we then get rid of the journals? Annie Dillard is quoted in Inventing the Truth (a lovely collection of memoir writings edited by William Zissner) that we no longer remember what happened, just what we wrote (after writing memoir). What's the point of the keeping journals and letters after we are done "researching"?

So many questions, so little time.  Yet, worthy of pondering.
Just keep writing, I tell my students who worry about who will read what they purposefully (publication/fame) or accidentally leave behind (sudden death/journals). We'll figure out the next part when we get to it.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What's In The Box?

A few weeks ago, I gave a prompt on opening a box. This was a writing by one of my male students (he'd like you to know I do have male students, grin). I love it because it skirts the edge of fiction and memoir. A few times you can hear him turn and address the question of voice:
Does it really matter how a story was written and how we read it? Does it matter if we can’t hear the writer’s original voice, the one that told their pen how to walk across a page as if it was dancing something sacred, as if it was performing a ritual that has been acted out many times before? Does it matter if we read a story in our own voice, color it with our own vision?
As well, he ponders the question of (personal) stories and whether or not to tell them:
What was said? Who remembers? Is this the box of history? Are these the remains of stories I should know? Of tales passed down through the ages from mouth to hand to ear to mouth to ear to hand to mouses’ teeth?
And what of all my stories? Is this where they will end up, in a box, a black box hidden in a shadow?
The details he uses - the gun in the box, the mouse droppings, all help to anchor these ponderings in something real, which is the point, of course, of using something concrete like a box for the prompt.

And I'll let you discover the final line, which is a powerful description of what happens when we try to see what is right in front of us, and points out the charge in what is hidden. As Dorothy Allison says, "Your shame is your gold."

Enjoy reading this writing, which is, of course, as always, unedited and fresh.

Then go and check out your own box - open it up. What's inside?