July 16, 2008

Memoir Prep

On July 28, my one week intensive seminar class in Memoir writing will begin... my teacher emailed the class telling us to read Judith Barrington's book on memoirs called "Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art" ... so to prepare, I'll have to finish reading this by July 28 (pretty easy, only 176 pages), and I'll be blogging my notes, and...

I'll be reading supplementary memoirs:

David Sedaris's "Naked": I first heard of Sedaris when he came to SHU-- regretfully, I didn't attend his lecture, ironically enough missing his lecture made me want to read his works, I'm not sure which one I read first either "Me Talk Pretty..." or something about "denim/corduroy"

Mark Doty's "Firebird: A Memoir": I first heard of Doty last semester... he was supposed to visit USU but had to cancel due to health reasons... USU rescheduled him for this November so hopefully by november he'll be healthy and he could visit USU... my friend/colleague read his book called something like "Still Life with Oysters and Lemon"? for one of his class... it explored art and life and so during office hours, he'd discuss some of its aspects with me (for sure I put my two cents especially when it came to discussing art) ... eventually I read this book also ("Still Life...")

Ishmael Beah's "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier": Beah is USU's guest author for the summer so he'll be visiting USU and will give a talk... the freshmen are also reading this book... so I want to read his book before he gives his talk in August

John Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley": I started reading this book last Febuary- I'd read snippets of it before I slept- hopefully I'll finish this before class begins

Louis L'Amour's "Education of a Wandering Man": I accidentally discovered him in the Logan Library, I saw a display of his works and I got interested- he wrote mostly westerns but the title of his memoir caught my attention

I'm not going to finish all of these by the 28th, the important thing is exposure and enjoyment... the first three books explores childhood (which is good because I'm prepping also for my children's folklore class this fall- reading memoirs about childhood might give me ideas for my research) and the last two books talk about travels and journey (two of my favorite things to write about)

So far I'd read the intro and chapter 1 to Barrington's book


key words/phrases: Virginia Woolf, frankness/candidness, conversation, telling our story, risk, embelishment, truth and memory

some thoughts: I never heard of Virginia Woolf until Nicole Kidman portrayed her in the movie "the Hours". After this, I kept hearing about her especially from my English and/or feminist friends... they were singing praises about Woolf's work. Initially I found this annoying so I shunned Woolf's work and did everything in my power to avoid her books...just a couple of days ago, I gave in and borrowed "the Hours" in the library (this was all coincidence- I didn't know that Barrington was going to mention Woolf in the intro)...I watched the featurettes about Woolf's life and work and "Three Women" which sort of explained how the movie was structured, I watched these before the actual movie (I didn't have a chance to finish it because I was tired and had to sleep and the following day I had to return it in the library- next time)... Barrington noted Woolf's candidness especially when she wrote a prototype for today's literary memoir insinuating an incestuous relationship with her half brother (one of the other things she wrote about which interests me is her childhood memoir exploring her relationship with her mother- most likely I'll try to read this one also)...

Being frank and candid was initially scary... but I remember what I told my students when I explained to them their personal narrative assignment... we discussed the difference between "personal" and "private"- the subtle difference lies in the author's feeling of comfort: is she/he WILLING and comfortable enough to SHARE her/his experience? With this in mind, being frank wasn't so terrifying.

I like conversing and the idea of telling one's story (I feel lucky because the classes I'm taking seem to connect with each other. For example... In June, I took a seminar in Life Stories...I'm about to take Memoir class (telling an aspect of one's life), and in the fall, I'll be taking "Storytelling" [telling stories])... the idea about conversing is pretty dynamic because whenever you converse with people, in a way you are performing... you interact with them (read their gestures/facials and react to these), there is a tone or two in your voice, you pantomine, you do a lot of things (an idea just popped out: Is memoir writing the literary version of oral storytelling?).

I related when Barrington mentioned risk of offending others like parents and friends, etc. whenever I write about them in my blog, I usually use the ambiguous pronoun... this is something I need to explore more...

Embelishments, truth and memory all seem to contradict each other... a semester ago I would have believe it too... my mind changed and adapted to new information/enlightenment I got after finishing my seminar in June about Life Stories... one of the things I learned was that memory is like history, both are selective, we usually remember what is the most memorable, depending on the victor or writer/recorder... from a lifetime of memories, our brains usually select the most dramatic and meaningful... it's okay to be selective- it doesn't mean that it's the only truth, or it can't be true, it's our perception, our impression of our experience, how it affected us mentally/physically/spiritually/emotionally etc.

Chapter 1

old concept- memoirS back then were closely associated with autobiography- broader, covering all aspects of a person's LiFe...tries to be factual, relies on facts/research... more than just memory

current concept- memoir, literary essay-like, focused, an aspect of a person's life (story from a life), such as Childhood, more in-depth...I like what Philip Lopate said about memoirs and other "informal or familiar essay" such as diatribe, moral philosophy, fantasy, etc. ... the author's voice (engaging, personality-galore, relax/conversational- the author's signature/fingerprint/identity) distinguishes this genre from others (it plays a CENTRAL role)... it's personal but uses fiction writing techniques (like the personal narrative I assigned my Eng. 1010 students)... an impression... author assumes role of narrator to help with distance even though he's still narrating about an aspect of his life

-person's thoughts/mental struggle is the plot/adventure (author both tells an amusing story and muses about it)
-narrator conversing intimately, like a columnist
-"Not everything in a memoir is factually accurate" (26)- this statement helps me understand Sedaris memoir more... some of the writing in "Naked" seem really out there and even if they are "out there" I still believe him. What Barrington said about the assertion of the author, which affects the reader, is starting to make sense. I believe what Sedaris is writing about because he believes in the story he's telling me. I find him reliable as a narrator (credible enough to tell me his experience). I TRUST him, his voice.

I like this quote "Self Revelation without analysis or understanding becomes merely an embarrassment to both reader and writer." I encountered this personally after I finished grading some of my students' personal narrative (in the Fall/Spring/Summer semester)... I always tell them to answer the "so-what" question in the end, i'd tell them that after they "recalled" an experience they needed to "assess" it also... I'd comment on their papers and ask them "so what?" (I know this sounds harsh...it was with good intention that I said this)... so what that "you didn't want to disappoint your parents?" so what that "you're living by yourself?"... another way I tried to approach this, "why is this memory/experience important to you?"... it's easy for me to ask these questions on other people's paper but when it comes to my own paper, I too struggle (I'm not the outsider seeing the essay objectively)... I'm the insider, writing, in the the midst of all the reliving/figuring out...I've learned though that what usually helps me is to see some kind of pattern (analyze the before and after, how the experience/memory affected me?, what changed? etc.)

tips for beginning a Memoir:
-find a focus/theme (not your whole life) - I'm thinking about childhood, Philippines, being a GI, my house
-be in a judgmental/questioning state of mind- working on this...
-read good memoirs for example- On-going with Sedaris, Doty, Beah, Steinbeck, L'Amour
-find your voice- I practice this all the time when I blog and in my journals...

I'm on my way...

Posted by Michael Diezmos at July 16, 2008 1:15 AM
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