Friday, May 27, 2011
Bringing My Story to the World Like a Covered Dish at a Potluck
I teach a creative nonfiction class.
At first I was pretty sure people signed up because, as my friends, they didn’t want me taking out loans to buy sunscreen.
Or, because they had nowhere else to go on a Tuesday night or a Thursday morning or a Saturday afternoon.
Or, because they thought it was both cool to hang out in a bookstore and cheaper than therapy.
Or, because like me, they’d finally given up being cynical, hibernating in some hovel alone hunched over an antique typewriter sweating over the first sentence of the great American novel, key by tortured key.
Or, because they believed that truth is stranger than fiction, that the stories they have to tell are as wild, as intimate, as unbelievable as myth, that the bug they stepped on during breakfast is somehow as interesting as Kafka’s cockroach, if only they would give themselves the time and the space to inspect it a little more closely. To write about it, laying it out and turning it over. And not just bugs, but days, stories, lives.
Maybe they come for all of those reasons or none, but why-ever they come, every week I bring them selections of essays by other people who have written the truth in the first person.
Yesterday, for the first time, I brought them writing, not from a book, but from a blog. I found White Girl in Black Face through a friend of a friend in that nether world called Facebook. The essays— "Exposed" and "For Writers Who Have Considered Memoir When the Story is Enuf"---moved me in a get under your skin/can’t put you down/you speak for us all/ kind of way and so I wrote to their author, Meadow Braun, and asked her permission to print them out and pass them around. She graciously said yes. And so we wrote our own versions using Meadow’s last lines as piers from which to jump.
But while Meadow wrote in a compelling and gorgeous way (that I encourage you to read) about why she’s writing her memoir, I wrote about why I want to stop writing mine. And why I’d rather write this instead:
As the cobwebs and rat’s nests in the attic of my life gets cleaned out I have less interest in the stories they once held and more interest in the days they impact now. What was once etched in stone seems fluid now, alchemically changed, impossible to pin down concretely. How can I prove what led to what to what to what? The real question I want to ask today is what’s happening next and with whom and what are we going to eat when we get there?
It’s not that I don’t want to write about my life, because My God, I do. Alone and in groups. In sickness and in health. At this table with these women, and others. In all kinds of weather. It’s just that I don’t want to wait for a deadline or a final draft or the narrative arc of a story that’s not finished before I feel I have the right to tell it.
Besides, I no longer care how or why I got from A to Z but what I’m thinking while walking to B talking to D. My past is already old in the telling, boring after a too long shelf life with a date past expiration.
Yes, parts of it were good, juicy, rich. At least the parts when I wasn't flailing around in bed praying for something to--- please dear God---- happen. Betrayal, luck, lust, horses, farmers, cowboys, cruise ships, fleet captains, sex, whales, trains, whiskey, God, sudden deaths, long distances, heart break. Sobriety. Marriage. Childbirth. Taxes. Etcetera.
But, if I am too obsessed with my past, it will keep me stuck an adolescent girl pining for her daddy, crashing backwards into bottles and men rather than forwards into the woman with strong hands I hoped one day to be. That, holding this pen, I find myself becoming.
My stories linger overripe-- ready to be snatched up or fall away, rotten. Why starve myself waiting alone at a table for a five course meal when I can feast on a platter of delicacies whenever I'm hungry? My story is just like yours--or hers-- and I want to bring it to the world like a covered dish at a potluck.
So, right now I really don’t want to go back, down, through there. At least not alone or for long. I'd rather find myself- and run into you- in unexpected alleys, unexplored valleys, than stir up dust on old roads where the story dead ends.
WARNING: All views expressed in this post about whether or not I am currently writing a memoir are subject to sudden, volatile change.
Posted by Valley Haggard at 8:14 AM