Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The first step toward reconsidering (shudder) memoir

Ideas appear for me either in a shout and burst or creep like a thaw so slow the ground only becomes workable in time for the next frost.  On the front page of the LA Times Sunday "Arts and Books" section, a boxed promo mentioned something about a writer returning to memoir.  I haven't yet read the article, but already those few words took me down a different street.

Bits of memoir elbow their way into some posts, usually because one thing reminds me of another and I dig up the shard of history to which it has referred me.  When people-in-writing started to call the telling of one's own story creative non-fiction I thought, with a device like a rib-spreader to open my head, I might be able to fashion such a work.  This was not to be; my stitches were uneven, my seams bunched, and the whole business was amateurish and embarrassing.

Why it had never occurred to me that memoir, rather than being something cathartic or painfully intimate or narcissistic, could be an opportunity for creative writing, a chance to practice writing poetically in prose form, I can't say.  I am very glad that I didn't keep that secret from myself forever.  The awareness is only that; it is not the beginning.  What is does offer, though, is the possibility of approaching a story I didn't feel needed to be told, which it may not.  But what if ordinary - this is where the poets step forward - can be made into something more.  As I attempted it, memoir was a leaden thing that even I couldn't tolerate.  Soon I will drag some of the pieces out of the drawer into which I stuffed them and see if I overlooked a potential for something more; not because it's my story but because I may have discovered a new way in which to see and present it, like any story.  At the very least, it is an option, an opportunity, a sound ecological practice.  Making something pleasing from what looked like residue.  In theory, at least, it doesn't seem impossible.


Rubye Jack said...

I've always thought of memoir writing as something akin to transcendental meditation, somehow separating the self from the self in order to look at yourself objectively. My feeble attempts have been self-indulgent and very boring I'm afraid. And then once you separate yourself from your story, you somehow have to make that life seem inviting and intriguing. I guess this is where the creative writing would come in.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Very fine post.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rubye - Using it, memoir, as an exercise for something leaning toward the poetic is all that makes it seem palatable to me. Perhaps rather than separating ourselves, stepping away from our story, we would do better to burrow deeply and find other levels of truth from that perspective. It's only a guess. I may not be cut out for it at all. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Laoch - Hello and thank you so much. I saw some very spring-like temperatures for Chicago this week. I hope you were able to enjoy them.