Wednesday, March 4, 2009

memoir is not an ice-pick for the unreachable

I started my memoir class last night with Tom Larson and pretty damn impressed. He spoke of things I hadn't even thought of and I am excited to dig deeper into his book Memoir and the Memoirist. Memoir is a genre I have been hesitant to delve into but, (like everyone), think parts of my story are important.

The other night at dinner I was speaking with my father about our family's history as Jehovah's Witnesses and explaining to him why I want to write about. A few weeks ago I was at a construction job site and in chatting with a young Mexican man, discovered the J-Dubs had him and he was studying to be baptized. He reminded me of how my father looked when he was young. He was excited about the new world order and also excited to raise his infant daughter as a J-Dub. I had such a rage and sadness build up in me when he told me this, not against him but against the religion. I tried to explain to the man how the religion damaged me as a child. He listened and told me the world wouldn't last that long, the end is near. I tried to tell him how my parents married in '75 because they had been told the world would end in '76 but like anyone enamored of their faith, he didn't want to hear it. I wish him luck and went and cried in my truck. My father listened to this story. I asked him if he had any regrets about being a J-Dub and he said yes but I'm not going to dwell on it and let it ruin my life and continued to eat his meal silently. Oh Mexican stoicism! Is there a story or way I can ever get through you?

There is a great chapter in Palahniuk's Stranger than Fiction about writing conferences. He is sardonic but honest in describing the scene of would-be writers waiting for their chance to tell their story and land an agent, book deal, film, etc. He writes If events occur to challenge and test us and we experience them only as story to be recorded and sold, then have we lived? Have we matured? Or will we die feeling vaguely cheated and shortchanged by our storytelling vocation? Interesting. I've thought about this before. (Especially during my last relationship, with a writer who always carried a notebook and pen in his pocket and would write down notes constantly. I spent a lot of time waiting for the notes to be written, waiting while we could have been experiencing. . .) Palahniuk also writes .. Learning to write means learning to look at yourself and the world in extreme close-up. If nothing else, maybe learning to write will force s to take a closer look at everything, to really see it-- if only in order to reproduce it on the page.

Shit, yes. And then some.

Can't Let Go
Lucinda Williams


Anonymous said...

You raise an interesting dilemma. Is the unexamined life not worth living? Or is the overly analyzed life a straitjacket on joy?

In a sense, I think your father is right to avoid dwelling on a unpleasant and perhaps humiliating mistake. He probably feels that his overall life as a parent is his way of showing you love and regret. It may not feel like enough.

In a larger sense, I think that Palahniuk should meet Emily Dickinson. He would realize that writing is not simply a revelation of a concrete truth, a minute microscope into our souls, but that it's also a flight of imagination, a revelation of a higher truth.

Anonymous said...

Navel-gazing...always a profitable occupation....

Anonymous said...

just about as profitable as leaving anonymous comments. . .