Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Gender: Profound and Mundane

Excerpt from Tomboy by Liz Prince
What I most often encourage students to write about, especially when it comes to memoir, is what is most mundane to them: daily details, describing how we even brush our teeth or wash our hair. Why? Because even if we don't wind up including that in a final memoir, the process of exploring - with curiosity - how we actually do daily mundane things can reveal more about ourselves than re-telling the most profound-seeming powerful bang-em-out dramatic trauma stories.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Being Known


Many memoir writers hope to be known through their stories. We hope by writing down what has happened to us, others will see us more clearly, we will be understood, acknowledged.

This is a dangerous gamble for memoir. If it is hard enough for us to feel known with real-life people right in front of us, who are already sympathetic and helped us live our story, the chances of a stranger picking up an essay or book and really feeling us in a genuine way are even smaller.

One of Natalie Goldberg's most famous expressions is "Don't use writing to get love." Most of us, if we are honest, do hope not just for recognition (fame, money, etc - the kind of "known" Katz refers to in her book) but also to be KNOWN in some deep way by sharing our stories, baring our souls. 

We need to be clear about what kind of "being known" we seek. Is it simply to garner fame? Rarely that simple. Is it to gain acknowledgement of what we have been through, or the prowress of our writing skills? Possible, but also uneven. Or is it that we want to be truly known as humans, really seen and accepted? This last kind of search will not be fulfilled by being published, I can all but guarantee it. For everyone person who sends you a personal letter, letting you know how much your story meant to them, there will be 15 others who dismiss it, write a bad review, and 1500 who don't care about it at all.

Does this mean you shouldn't bother?
Not at all!
But keep checking in with yourself about what it is you really want. Looking at your need to be KNOWN is important, and being realistic about how you seek it is crucial. If you are still convinced at some level that being famous, should that even be a result, will bring you a sense of Peace, all you have to do is read the words of famous writers and memoirists - their isolation, the gap between how others see them and their actual selves in particular.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't bother. You need to do it for the right reasons, is all. And if you desire to be truly known and accepted, use the writing process itself to more deeply accept and acknowledge yourself, seeking out supportive readers who can positively but clearly and precisely give you feedback on your story and how you tell it. 

That way, by the time you are "known", if that's how your writing turns out, you will already feel KNOWN, and have relationships to come back to for support when (if) fame comes along.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Haiti On My Mind

A few weeks ago, I picked up Dany Laferriere's memoir of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Tout Bouge Autour de Moi (The World Turns Around Me). It's an amazing book, full of powerful, palpable, personal description. At one point, a nephew, also named Dany, insists he not write about the earthquake - that the elder Dany's Haiti is done, over writing about, and this is his Haiti, his topic. Elder Dany points out there are as many ways to write an experience as there are experiences - endless.

In search of more information about the quake and in particular, the failure of aid to improve Haiti's lot, especially with the recent hurricane Now also a factor, I turned to the half memoir, half reportage of Jonathan Katz's The Big Truck That Went By. Katz's book is a) by a "blan" - an outsider - and so has more distance (for better and worse) but also b) is the story of him living through the quake - including serious PTSD - as he was embedded there before and after the fact.