memoir writing

If I were going to write a memoir, that’s what I’d call it and then subtitle it with – Lather, Rinse and Repeat.

I bring this up for two reasons.

The first is that my blog reader is crammed with Eat, Pray, Love crap as the Julia Roberts adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book is opening or has opened.

The reviews are mostly “meh”. No surprise. The novel itself isn’t much. One review pronounced it too “talk-y” as in the character constantly describes how she feels and her observations about every freaking thing. As if a movie about a writer documenting her journey to enlightenment should be somehow more visual than word-packed.

My favorite review so far was written by Helena Andrews at The Root. It took up the theme of Gilbert’s book and named it “white girl problems”. Couldn’t have found a better genre for it.

White girl problems are essentially the non-issues the pale and the privileged focus on in the absence of actual adversity.

When I attempted to read Eat, Pray, Love, Will was just going into hospice. A book by a woman bemoaning her serial monogamy – that horrid pretty girl issue of having always been someone’s girlfriend or wife – while I was losing the only man I’d ever had a long-term relationship with in my entire 41 years didn’t go over well.

Sucks to be her, I mentally eye-rolled as I put the book on a shelf never to be cracked open again until I decided that some of her syrupy half-wit might be useful when I was writing comps for my education masters about six months later. I knew Gilbert was a poser but my professor didn’t.

Andrews though draws this awesome comparison between “white girl problems” lit/memoirs and a line from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. There is a scene where the Mad Hatter observes that in the real world, Alice has lost her “muchness”.

“You were much more … muchier.”

White girls in the real world then are searching for their muchness.

Gilbert’s muchness turned out to be the exact thing she thought was her problem – love and being in a relationship – because her journey ends when she meets the man she is now married to.

So much for issues.

Which brings me to my second reason, and it is related to the loss of muchness. My memoir. The one that’s pretty much written and is screaming to be edited and shopped.

I can’t.

I know. I have been saying that for a while now, but I am sure of the reason behind my reluctance. And it goes beyond my belief that books about overcoming tragedy by being plucky, witty and boot-strappy are so common place that they’ve become clichés onto themselves.

Rob followed a link to a widow blog and the author was describing her experiences at a Blogher style convention for widows complete with keynote speakers, author panels and how-to workshops. A couple of her encounters with people who’d mined literature from their experiences and turned them into books and/or workshops had left her feeling removed and as though she was possibly doing widowhood and grieving wrong.

And then I knew why I haven’t finished my memoir.

I can’t give people their muchness back. I could write a memoir, package it and sell it out of workshops and conventions, but a person’s muchness comes from within not from without.

I felt/still feel sometimes as though I didn’t do widowhood right. The way I felt, and the things I needed to do for myself, were often so out of step with other widows, books on grieving and even memoirs of widows that I wondered how I could be so far out in the weeds when everyone else seemed to know where the paved road was.

I can’t do that to someone else. Lead them to believe – even inadvertently – that I know the way.

Especially since I really don’t believe there is a process to grief or a one size fits all way to navigate the first year or that the whole honoring of someone’s memory should even be numbered in the top twenty of a person’s priority list.

The blogger mentioned how pleased some of the authors seemed with themselves, their lives and this opportunity to basically headline a conference. And I can totally understand her and them.

It’s amazing when people read what you’ve written and tell you it meant something to them. It would be easy to let that dominate and forget that the subject matter makes you more responsible to your readers than that of a fiction writer.

If what I write inspires someone, wow, but if it makes someone feel inadequate, wrong, or persecuted by the fates? Ouch. It would bother me the same way that the kid in my 3rd hour English class who’d given up because he’d never gotten a grade above a D used to bother me. Even though that wasn’t really my fault, I had to fix it. It was my job.

Memoirists open their lives for reasons that are far different from that of a fiction writer. It’s more than telling a good story. My story and opinions as a blueprint for grieving would be a responsibility like the one I took on as a teacher. And it would mean never fully closing the door. The pain would always have access of sorts to my now. A liberty that it doesn’t deserve and that I don’t owe it.

Besides, I’ve written my story – here and in a hundred different places all over the webosphere via comments and guest posts.

Purge, Pack and Move would be an awesome title though.  Sigh.

It’s been hard to focus this week because I’ve been fighting a sinus infection,both Rob and BabyD have had spiritual encounters*, the Steelers won the AFC, and controversy in the form of assumptions and projections found me again.

In spite of all this I can pretty safely say the memoir is done. I am adding and revising things in the last two chapters still but – until the true revising starts in a couple of weeks – it’s complete at just under 87,000 words. A bit  short of my estimations. Likely to be shorter still because I think I am going to dump at least one of the opening three chapters and use the other two in abbreviated forms in later chapters. The chapter breaks too are still open to reinterpretation but again, that is for  later. 

So how many pages is 87,000ish words? 

357 pages. Double spaced with a 12pt font in New Times Roman. 

I am neither thrilled nor displeased with what I am calling a first draft despite the fact that some of it was revised a bit – more than once – as I wrote. I tried to just write without stopping but not having an outline other than the years and months, I had to reread on occasion and that always leads to revision.

I didn’t include as much of the correspondence between Rob and I via email and IM in the first draft as I thought I would, but this was mostly due to the volume of it. I will need to shore up chapters and this means going back through more of the “documentation” which is time consuming. I didn’t take into account when I began this that reading email, IM sessions and old blog posts would eat up a lot of writing time. I will have to factor “research” into the revision process.

On the quest for physical improvement front, I did not feel like puking or need a nap after spin this week. The women who have been talking the class since October assured me that Tuesday’s session was the hardest one yet and I held my own. Good on me. 

My new yoga instructor is awesome and I am finally getting into a more serious pose oriented yoga. I keep trying to talk Rob into yoga, but he still raises his eyebrow and looks at me as if I have never met him when I bring it up.

Rob has agreed to help me with my spin homework however. Yes, the spin instructor assigns homework. Abs and lunges daily. I can do the abs but lunges don’t work for my right knee, so I am to do plies instead. Rob gave me the look when I suggested plies for him. He will do lunges. And start lifting weights again, for which I am so pysched. He has the most awesome biceps and shoulders and pecs as it is  and more of that would be … well … more better.**

Finally, I am struggling with the book I am reviewing next Tuesday, Ingrid Cummings’ The Vigorous Mind. It’s not that I don’t agree with her theory or that the book isn’t useful. It is a bit repetitious however and very grounded in non-fic/self-help formula presentation. It doesn’t make for sustained scintillating reading. It’s something you tackle in stages and is not bedtime reading. So between not feeling well and being dog-tired from my new work-out routine, I am behind. I will be done on time, I think.


*BabyD was under the table playing on Tuesday night when she said, “Who called me?” Rob and I were reading the newspaper and hadn’t spoken and told her so. “Well, someone whispered my name,” she informed us. “I wonder who it was?” Who indeed. If it was that damn dead husband of mine, he knows better than to be playing games like that when I am having a tense week already.

**My motivation for motivating Rob to exercise is grounded in more than my concern for his health.

Despite vowing we would get more sleep this weekend, Rob and I were up until 1 AM watching the dvd, Running with Scissors. Did you know it was actually nominated for a Golden Globe? I can’t imagine why. It was a hodge-podge of quirky characters in what amounted to a montage of scenes that almost, but never quite, tells a whole story.

Note to self – the only reason to stay up late is love making. And on a further note, it is really the only truly good reason to get up early as well.

Being a geek, I was driven to google Augusten Burroughs to ascertain whether the novel he wrote was as crappy as the movie made from it. I discovered a blog, a Wikipedia page, and this YouTube video. All of which has convinced me that I need to finally work his novel into my reading rotation. I have a copy. My BFF gave it to me for my birthday two years ago, but I was never moved to read it. My own life was drama enough then. I didn’t care to know about someone else’s true life woe.

You might wonder why I bother to research and report on the author of a memoir that was a predictably shit movie, but I find writers quite interesting. I love to know about what brought them “to the show” so to speak. Where did their book come from? How do they feel about the process and what is that for them?

One of the entries in Burroughs’ blog discusses his response to being asked about fame. In his reply he notes that the death of his best friend and former partner has tempered it in a way I can relate to. It simply is not that big of a deal in the light of everything else. Much of his perception changed and he didn’t care as he once did. Funny how widowed crop up in my life sometimes.

Anyway, tomorrow be sure to drop by to read a short (very short) piece of fiction I wrote in answer to a writing prompt on the blog of one of my husband’s semi-regular readers. It’s not bad but I am going to beef it up and change a few things before trying to find a magazine to send it off to.