Wednesday, January 6, 2016
I came to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to revise my main memoir, My Bermuda Triangle. I came here thinking it would be like Johnson, Vermont, where I spent a month at Vermont Studio Center a decade or so ago. Johnson is a tiny town, barely a town, quite rural and remote, extremely quiet.
Gatlinburg is not.
Or, I should say, Arrowmont is (the school where I am in residency for the week), but the town is not.
The town has not one, not two but eight separate Ripley's museums - the main "Believe it or Not!" museum, plus two mirror maze things, plus a haunted house and...you get the idea. It's actually a lot like Wisconsin Dells near Madison, with strips full of 100's of crappy shops which seem exciting at first but then you realize just repeat variations on the same fudge (universal) and moonshine (ok, THAT we don't have in Wisconsin).
But what caught my attention first thing the first day was the mirror maze.
THAT is what memoir is like, I thought, and snapped the above shot.
I just got done talking with my new friend, Ester, about how our framing of the writing we do continues the same patterns - especially if one is writing memoir or creative non-fiction - as exist within the writing itself. Echoes, resonance and ripples are natural and positive ways of talking about it, and I anchor in those.
Some days, though, it feels less like a beautiful manifestation of nature, and more like a fucking mirror maze. An unreal, completely constructed, never-the-same-view-twice but always about "you" mirror maze. In fact, I am both tempted to run down to the maze right now, and have been for a week, and do it - and also tempted to avoid the thing like the plague, since I have enough of a mirror maze in front of me trying to comb through the memoir.
Walks in nature have helped a lot. Despite the fact that Gatlinburg is full of tourist kitsch, it is also at the edge of the National Smokey Mountain Park. Little forays into the edges of the great woods, writing haiku and taking photos - as well as just simply being - help. Mediation helps. Laughing over dinner with other writers or at lunch exchanging metaphorical craft terms with potters or textile artists helps. Making abstract watercolors at my desk helps, and so does writing blog posts about how hard this is, while remembering what I tell my students:
"Writing your memoir(s) may very well be the hardest thing you will do in your life.
There's a reason why not many people actually do it."
So this is as much for me as it is for you, dear reader. A reminder to take it easy, give myself space. There's no race here. My life continues on, and hopefully will for some time. At thirty-eight, writing a book-length memoir is still pretty rare. I have time. And if I don't, if I die tomorrow, I have tried well and made some lovely art. That can be enough. For now.