Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Daily Life as Memoir Topic
Recently, we've been reading Life Work by Donald Hall for Read and Write.
I chose this book for a few reasons.
1. It is a "quiet" book - very little drama, mostly reflective, and not really about a specific happening but more the intersection between life and work for a famous poet.
2. Donald Hall is an amazing poet - his collections on his wife Jane Kenyon's death and after are powerful poetry memoir (Without and Otherwise) and his memoir about her death is a beautiful and also quiet reflection on loss. But what happens if this same poet reflects on simple family memories (we-moir) and contemplative topics?
3. During the writing of the book itself, Hall is diagnosed with liver cancer; this is after he and Jane both lived through bouts of cancer previously (and Kenyon dies of cancer two years later, which he doesn't know will happen as he writes this book). In other words, the memoir is both about the past and present, but also includes a dramatic happening as it occurs in real-time. Real-time memoir is a powerful experience - not looking back - or in this case, not just looking back - but living with a major event as it happens. He recovers, as we know because he published this book over 20 years ago and still lives today, but he doesn't know it at the time - and so he believes he is facing his own death square on and writes from that place.
Aging. Facing death. Impermanence. Work and when it is boring and joyful. Creative process as a daily practice. These are topics which can be dramatic and plot-driven, but are, for the most part, actually quiet when it comes to ordinary lives. So quiet we can overlook them as "something to write about" and instead go for what is big and stands out - a marked and traumatic loss, when we stop creating all together or finally put together the award-winning book and publish it.
Books like Life Work remind us that the meat of our lives - and work - is actually what we would construe as boring - simple, repetitive, daily, routine.
But this is where the magic is: in routine and ritual, in relationship and regard. Its good to read memoir like this especially when you doubt the worth of daily life as topic. Granted, Hall could publish something this simple because he was - and still is - well known. I am not talking about a strategy for publication. But if you doubt the worth of your daily life and doubt its worth as topic in specific; if you believe you need to have lived an amazing life (to the positive or negative bent), or have an exciting daily life to even write about it, think again. Read the quiet memoirs, the essays that lean more towards truths like death and loss, inspiration and connection in quiet, regular, daily ways.
Let it be detailed. Let it be tedious, even. Explore the details in your writing, and you will begin to wake up to them in your life. Let your work influence your life in this way, and vice versa. This interfusion strengthens your writing and your life both.