Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Memoirist Live Twice

comic from 11/24/15 edition of Cat and Girl

“As writers we live life twice, like a cow that eats its food once and then regurgitates it to chew and digest it again. We have a second chance at biting into our experience and examining it. ...This is our life and it's not going to last forever. There isn't time to talk about someday writing that short story or poem or novel. Slow down now, touch what is around you, and out of care and compassion for each moment and detail, put pen to paper and begin to write.”
-Natalie Goldberg
For this round of Read and Write, my students and I are reading the novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson. We just finished reading her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? for the last Read and Write, and a few folks were curious how this novel, her first and mainly  autobiographical, would read next to her memoir, one of her most recent books and written in with an adult understanding.There is, as one would expect, a huge difference in not only style (and not all of it is accounted for by genre change) but also perspective. That is invaluable - and the later memoir does not dismiss the award-winning strength of the younger semi-autobiographical novel.

I love doing this, the few times we have an opportunity to do it. I love looking both at the span of a writer's work, especially in two different genres, as well as looking at how they tell their own story, especially when it comes to memoir. I think more people, despite the Cat and Girl tongue-in-cheek comic above, should write more than one memoir. Writing even about the same topic - a period of one's life, for instance - at different ages would produce wildly different books. As Goldberg notes, writers live twice - I would add, especially memoirists - and there's no reason to wait to write it. 

Maybe later you will wish you hadn't written that memoir when you were young and "didn't understand." But you did. You understood how you understood it then. Enough of thinking that the adult perspective, with time and space, is the right one, the only one. We need to witness throughout our lives, and if we wait only until we are grey, we will have changed our tune so dramatically by then that we lose the vividness captured in between.

Just starting now, in your sixties or seventies? That's ok! Nothing wrong with that. Start whenever you can. But especially for the "young" - don't wait. There's never too young to explore, investigate your own life through the lens of memoir. 

Heck, live more than twice. Live a few times. 

Be a cat-like memoirist, live nine times. 

However many times you tell and re-tell the same story, live your life and writing fully, pen to page. 

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