Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Embodied Love

There's no hotter topic in memoir than love.

To look at someone's sexual history up close (from trite 365 day dating projects, to heartfelt analyses of former lovers) is something a lot of us seem to be craving.

To reveal love in the context of marriage or divorce is also big (Eat, Pray, Love).

But in her book In the Body of the World, Eve Ensler breaks open all our previous concepts of love and bodies, sex and sexism. She slashes together her own bouts with cancer alongside rape in Congo with incredible eloquence. She has been there, owns her privilege, never lets her memoir be only her story of love, or sex, or rape, or loss. An incredible blend of the personal and political.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Ancestral Keys

The following is a spontaneous Haibun (she didn't know this form existed, combining prose and haiku) by a student, following our most recent Read and Write where we shared and discussed Alice Walker's The Temple of My Familiar.

As maddening as it can be to have to write and rewrite our way through old personal stories (if memoir) or characters' life events (if fiction), the fact is, most of writing is re-writing, and most of re-writing is simply understanding. If memoir, simply understanding what we believed without realizing we believed it - or could believe differently - this whole time.

The Key The Old One Gave Me - 

Barbara Samuel


I wish there had been a key, but I had to open the door myself by writing about him.  By writing about him I learned what I did not know before.  The key was in the writing.  The key was hidden for nearly two decades after he’d already died.  I had created a story and carried it all my life.  I can’t remember when I made that story, but it seemed true enough.  I believed it.  Only when I began to write did the story fall apart.  I could no longer hold my story together.  The words of my story floated away, lost their meaning.  As I wrote about my father, I discovered him again and wished I had created a different story so long ago.  As I wrote about my father, I saw a different man than the one I thought I knew, even though I wrote only what I already knew.


I began to forgive him for all the things he had done to make me hate him.  No, I began to forgive myself for hating him.  That is hard to do.  Because I can’t go back and tell him I’m sorry for hating him.  I can’t make it right.


The key to my father is in the words I write about him.  I have not yet stepped all the way through the door, but I’m getting closer.


What animal sleeps

Beneath fertile years of earth

Waking in my roots


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Selling Childhood

This last week, a relative put on the market the last piece of property my family owned: a cottage near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. My family was in good fortune to have four properties over the generations - the house I grew up in, in Appleton, Wisconsin; a greystone in Chicago, Illinois; my grandmother's house in Woodstock, Illinois; and this cottage. All of the other properties got sold closer to the deaths of the folks who owned them initially - this one stayed in the family.

It's been a long process, including digging up the cremains on the property so we wouldn't leave a graveyard there. Not easy. When the listings did finally appear, I was a bit shocked - there it is! Some parts of it look exactly as they have for over forty years, some parts are newer because of some room remodeling. Nothing unknown, except that kind of aspirational zen quality that comes with empty rooms, a sort of "Hey, maybe I could make this work for me," feeling that always crosses my mind with property for sale and rooms empty like blank canvasses.