Memoir

Photo Oct 13, 12 20 16 PM (1)It’s been a while.  I’m sorry.  This week, Mary Karr’s brilliant book about memoir, “The Art of Memoir” landed in my hands.  Want to know how it landed in my hands?  I bought it.  My own damn self. Because I thought it would help me with some writing I’m struggling with.  And it did. Because I can be both the hero and the person in distress in this story.  In fact, I can’t not be.

My mother has been calling me daily (hi Ma!) to ask about this writing I’m struggling with but won’t talk about.  It’s too complicated at this point to put into words, too jumbled up and frustrating and distressing and I can’t quite explain it and when I talk to someone about it I hate every single thing they say to me in response–to the point of almost hating them.  She said something to the effect of, “Well that’s how you’ve always been.  You don’t want help until you’ve figured out what you’re going to do yourself.”  And first I was like, No that’s not true!  I am so open about what goes on with me!  I write this blog!  I write poems!  I have friends!  I tell them things!

But actually, I guess that’s not true.  When I’m trying to figure something out, I go deep inside myself to think about it.  And I’m a grouch to everyone else while I do it.  Shit.  Still tearing down walls to myself here.  Coming back to Mary Karr–she has this fantastic list of questions for the development of voice (these aren’t verbatim, because I’m over here and the book’s over theeeeerrrre):

  1. What do people like/dislike about you?
  2. What do you wish to be perceived as/how have you or do you posture? (Karr says to think back to what people have said to you out of anger…)
  3. What are some verbal signposts (how do you talk/write, what words do you use when you’re playing a role–what words make you feel smarter/cooler/more metal etc) that you can look out for?

Think about these things, maybe write down your responses.  Then read this short story by John Cheever.  You can also look up the New Yorker Fiction podcast reading of it which is so goddamn brilliant.  I’m not linking it here because you should do it yourself.  It’s a question of googling.  Be your own hero, damn it.

And then use this starting line:

“The last time I…”

you can write about something mundane, just be specific about what you were wearing, who else was there, how it all felt.  Note in Cheever’s story, he doesn’t get all flowery about all the scene setting; he keeps it moving, but the details he picks are dead on.  They give us enough.  Go into your memory and trust it provide the important details.

20 minutes, beauties.  My inbox awaits.

2 thoughts on “Memoir

  1. Terri Shrum

    This is exactly what I needed today. Eerily, cosmically so. How does this happen, when you or someone else I love or even a perfect, perfect stranger open their hands to me like flowers and offer *just this*, the one thing I need? Maybe my stardust recognizes yours. Thank you! Ordered Karr’s book just now. Googling Cheever.

    • seemareza

      Ah! From one of my favorite memoirists!!!!

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