The Memoir: “Cut a Path to the Writer’s Past and Rediscover It”

memory-laneIn some of my last blogs, we’ve looked at the Memoir and evolving perspectives on what they should contain and who is most likely to benefit from them. Well, yet again I’ve found an interesting article that brings me closer to understanding the Memoir as an art form that addresses people’s present as well as past. In the September 17th issue of The New York Times, Janet Maslin reviews poet/novelist/memoirist Mary Karr’s latest book titled The Art of Memoir. While there is much to make a writer and reader think about in terms of “latest” books, “how to” books, and influences on a writer’s choices of subject in this article, ultimately, here, I want to discuss process and inspiration.

One of the first things that jumped out at me as a tutor and professor of composition is that Karr draws from the syllabus she uses at Syracuse University for this book’s ideas and structure. That is much like I am doing with my blog. I am letting these small sections and themes to become the basis of a larger work. It’s kind of my syllabus. She is drawing from experience in terms of success and failure in application. I am offering insight and philosophy based on my own successes and disappointments or failures. She’s observed aspiring memoirists in action in her classroom and can draw not only from her own works, then, but the results of other “would-be” writers. I work to include both aspiring writers as well as those who have found their voice and their way.

So? Perhaps your own scattered notes and ideas are actually not languishing ideas without focus, but building blocks to assemble into a guide for others or a foundation for a larger work you had not considered writing.

But let’s get back to Memoir in general and Karr in particular. In the article she calls herself a ‘passionate, messy teacher.’ It’s the passion in her work that draws people to her as a guide as well as an author. I like the idea of “messy” because many would-be writers think of the drafting or even teaching process as something only heavily organized or type-A people can do well. Or maybe the artist/author has an an assistant to make it all go smoothly. But getting messy is what it’s all about—especially with truth. But the mess must be organized into parts that translate well to the reader who has no ability to “see” or “remember” the past as you can. Embrace the mess and sweep and arrange it into a coherent narrative. That means edit and rewrite as needed for as long as needed but don’t throw out the edgy or uncomfortable things. These make you human and honest.

I’ve talked about imitation and emulation as a tool as you find your own voice. Karr addresses this as well. But then once you’ve studied the likes of Nabokov, McCourt, Maya Angelou, and others, including Karr, do you see a rhythm or truth in their work that affects you or do you have a voice that does not align with frameworks of resentment, affection, glamorizing, philosophizing, humor, or tattling that may dominate some writers’ themes. Karr looked carefully at her own life and her own voice was what made her work, fiction and nonfiction, engaging. She says to be ‘aware of [your] sensory impressions.’ I teach my students to engage in affecting the reader with vivid imagery even in nonfiction. The senses are what connect us all and if you don’t address what a stranger may be able to comprehend in the use of these, you are not truly able to connect to him.

As the article so well states: “Readers will love you for your imperfections.” So get messy, take chances, and, perhaps, read Karr’s book. What’s to lose?

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Thanks to David Snape

Today, I just want to thank David for sending out the welcome to submit our writing to him to be posted on his site. He has a true sense of community and inclusion that more of us should emulate. I am so pleased that he accepted one of my blogs to post and that he gave my thoughts a chance to be shared with others. 

I had tried something to this effect with The Community Story but the variations in writing styles were not conducive to creating a single, coherent tale from the prompt’s’ resulting submissions. Still, the experiment became the catalyst for a writing workshop my friend and I are developing. So, even failure is productive. 

Let’s all keep sharing our ideas and welcoming each other.

The Gaps of Time Between Posts Are Not Gaps in Dedication, Right?

A sudden realization that the last post on this site was more than 20 days ago sent me into a spin of worry. Not that it is that hard for me to find worry in my day since I’ve always been more type A than B, but the key source of concern was more about losing the chance to keep the audience that I have and gain new readers than it was about losing track of time. I think that is not quite the most productive perspective. After all, some writers may not have published prolifically but still have success. Some writers generate an enormous amount of work at a steady clip to major success or only moderate acknowledgement.

The key question for any creative person should be less about numbers and more about substance. Even though I was posting rather steadily up until this last month, not all of my work was acknowledged or commented on or even liked at times. It was the content of a post that caught attention rather than my just being out there. Now, yes, quantity and quality are the way to go if you want to stand out. It’s like branding. Get everyone used to seeing you and then they think of you on their own. But, as I brand myself, what is it that I want remembered?

I want to be remembered for posts worth reading. And if that means that sometimes there is a long gap in time between them, then that only means that I am embracing other endeavors in my life and storing up the experiences to share when I am in the right frame of mind and am able to offer my complete attention to my readers.

Ask yourself this as well: Does silence or stillness represent a lack of productivity? Or is it simply a sign of someone at rest and recharging, making ready for future creativity?