Before coronavirus, I typically spent the morning following a class or writing group session combing through comments and making a list of ideas for revision. I understand I am an anomaly. Many writers choose to let those comments sit for weeks before attempting to incorporate the suggestions into their next drafts. I, on the other hand, like to strike when the iron’s hot, when the ideas are fresh in my mind. Yes, coronavirus derailed all of that.
But by the time summer came around and I found time and space to write, I had a backlog of material to catch up on -- excerpts I had presented to my writing group and to classmates. It was a bit discouraging to review the excerpts months later. I could remember that I had had ideas. I couldn’t remember what those were. Very frustrating, but I dove in anyway, hoping I would be able to jog my memory.
At some point this summer though, I started to wonder whether I was doing it wrong. I mean, having time to write again was supposed to be a gift. Why wasn’t I enjoying it more?
“In some ways, writing a memoir is knocking yourself out with your own fist, if it’s done right...The form always has profound psychological consequence on its author.” (xx)
“Any time you try to collapse the distance between your delusions about the past and what really happened, there’s suffering involved.” (xx-xxi)
“However many intellectual pleasures a book may offer up, it’s usually your emotional connection to the memoir’s narrator that hooks you in. And how does she do that? A good writer can conjure a landscape and its people to live inside you, and the best writers make you feel they’ve disclosed their soft underbellies.” (xxiii)
“...this book’s mainly for that person with an inner life big as Lake Superior and a passion for the watery element of memory. Maybe this book will give you scuba fins and a face mask and more oxygen for your travels.” (xxiii)
Based on what my most recent classmates shared, I also learned that I tend to jump in a lot faster when writing about traumatic moments. Whereas some writers will take 80 pages or so to work up to writing about the event that they want to write about, I usually start the action on page 1. I’ve realized that while this makes for a page turner, it leaves the reader panting for breath, in addition to raising a lot of questions about the backstory. Karr suggested interspersing “places of hope” in between the dramatic moments, in order to throw “past pain into stark relief for a reader”...and perhaps give me a chance to take a breath as well. (13)
Perhaps the biggest gift Karr gave me though, was permission to set down my own truth. As she puts it, “you’re seeking the truth of memory -- your memory and character -- not of unbiased history.” (11) I love how she puts her foot down about this:
“However often the airwaves wind up clotted with false memories and misidentified criminal culprits and folks dithering about what they recall, I still think a screw has come loose in our culture around notions of truth, a word you almost can’t set down without quotes around it anymore. Sometimes it strikes me that even when we know something’s true, it’s almost rude to say so, as if claiming a truth at all -- what? Threatens someone else’s experience? Most of all, no one wants to sound like some self-satisfied proselytizer everybody can pounce on and debunk.
“The American religion--so far as there is one anymore--seems to be doubt. Whoever believes the least wins, because he’ll never be found wrong.” (88-89)
More than anything, these last words give me courage -- to set down my truth, even as “doubt and wonder come to stand as part of the story.” (14)
We come to the end of summer now, and while I haven’t made as much progress on my revisions as I would have liked, I have accomplished some things. The voice and backstory are starting to take shape, and I have hope that there is more potential to my stories than I would have guessed back when I had wished a first draft would suffice. Despite the hard (emotional) work involved, I do want to see what comes of these pages.
And so for now, I press on.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.