I don’t know whether I intentionally, always, return to memoir, but I do, and I just busted out two great reads in less than a week: Augusten Burroughs’s recovery memoir Dry and Anne Lamott’s journal of the first year of her son’s life, Operating Instructions.
Reading both reminded me why I love personal narrative. There are so many ways to tell your story. Burroughs does it with clipped honesty and humor, with edginess, with sarcasm, and throughout, with this amazing and very real sense of self-deprecation, like: “You won’t believe how badly I fucked up, but keep reading and I’ll tell you.” You’ll want to keep reading. His fuck-ups are epic.
Lamott hits the same nerve, but her writing is much more raw, and so intensely personal it’s at times almost cringe-worthy. As a mother who survived the first year of her own son’s life, I was laughing and gasping and remembering the whole way, remembering the wonderful parts and the soul-crushing parts, and at the end I had a big, big old cry. In part this is because in addition to the story of the baby Sam, the book is about addiction and loss and tragedy, and it just filled me with fear. It’s very well done.
I know I promised, barring disaster, a Fall Reading List, but I woke up thinking meh. Suffice it to say that on my nightstand are Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions, Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, a book by Eleni Sikelianos called The Book of Jon, a book about tigers that my husband recommended, and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, which I started last night. Oh, and those damn New Yorkers.
Been a little crazy in Crazytown of late. I remarked to another preschool mom the other day that I am a “yes-sayer.” She said breezily, “Oh, I’m not. I’m so good at putting up boundaries and saying ‘no’ that sometimes I look around and realize I haven’t seen anyone all day!” I instantly liked her.
But not me: I took on a bigger position at the school because they needed someone, I decided to revamp one of the major assignments in my composition class, I agreed to a more aggressive blogging schedule over on popcorn, I took an extra shift in the writing center?you know, the usz.
And fun stuff, too. My friend A. is getting married this weekend. I arrived at her house yesterday morning to find her and her family dreadfully hungover. The wedding dress was slung across a chair in the living room. The bride answered the door in false eyelashes, heavy mascara, and sweatpants, talking on her cell phone. Her mother told me three times, “I’m so glad you’re here!”
There’s a short story in there somewhere, I know it.
I’ve coined a new phrase: “procrastiblogging.” As in, blogging instead of writing your book or doing your schoolwork. Not that I’m guilty of this or anything, but you know.
Have been thinking I want to start a food blog…
Need to learn how to use Twitter…
I have had a good idea about how to treat all the extraneous characters in my memoir?all the fellow travelers, the hostel owners, the guides, the people who are a very real part of the fabric of life when you’re backpacking for a year but who make the fabric of a book a little overcrowded. I think I have figured out how to retain those characters without them being too distracting.
I am ruminating on titles, too. I have two possibilities that are exciting me a little (still top secret, sorry).
The end stage of a book is excruciating, you know that? I keep telling myself I just need to work harder at finishing it (maybe true; see above about being compulsive yes-sayer and procrastiblogging). On the other hand, I remember that writing is a process and that this process may be slower at some times than at other times. That maybe dragging out this last revision is just
And to quote Garrison Keillor, here is a poem for today.
God grant me the serenity to work things
hard, and carefully.
I accept the things I cannot change. I lie
fallow between mountains.
God grant me the hamster wheel, fly wheel, nautilus.
Copper pipe with brass fittings.
God grant me the Mill river, all in a sheet
over the dam. Grant me the wide Connecticut
and everything that falls beneath it
because it is fast, and silent,
and sometimes I feel breathless.
(? Susie Meserve, 2012)
I'm working from the premise that motherhood is not just all diapers, tantrums, and setting limits. It's interesting. Okay, sometimes.