August 1, 2008

Memoir Writing: Spark of Interest

Today is the last day of my one-week intensive writing workshop. Genre: Memoir. I like it a lot especially for its hybrid nature. It's weird (fated sense) how 'things' (of what I want to pursue) are clarified throughout my educational journey.

I had this general idea of what I wanted to pursue starting in

grade school (poetry, the use of words, playing with words, form, structure, creation...)

high school (writing as expression/art and teaching so greater possibility of livelihood- the practical/earthy Taurus in me)

College (English majors are not destined to be stuck as teachers [not that teaching is bad], but what I'm saying is that there are more options for English majors than what are often believed... so I stopped pursuing a certification for elementary ed. and decided to focus on art and other aspects of English, such as journalism, literature... I did everything in my power to avoid teaching)

Graduate School (Ironically enough, I became a teacher, well a graduate instructor... Chose to get an MA in Folklore (American Studies) instead of an MFA in Creative Writing... folklore is interdisciplinary (I can combined writing, art, culture, people [children's folk group], blurring the lines but it's okay... personally not feeling so confined by canons et al [I respect them nonetheless and learn from them, I need different types of teachers]... inspiration=people)

Summer 08 Graduate Seminar (8 am to 4:30 pm... I took Memoir Writing Workshop... the word 'Memoir' sort of encapsulates what I want to do in terms of my writing, starting with true experiences connected to/from people, molding it with creative fictional techniques in order to bring out the truth more, pass the surface/superficial, deeper meaning... using words to express and to create/shape/influence world)

Important Points about the form of Memoir:
-Literary- art before story, 'craft' used to bring out deeper truths
-Not confessional- not grating whines
-An aspect of life (more specific) not biography (general: birth to death)
-Lemons squeezed plus water and sugar = lemonades (bitter turns bittersweet)
-Questions (answer the 'so what'- to Discover, Question Authority to claim authority)
-Hybrid Form- Blend of Truth and Fiction
-It's true (not made up- however this could be tricky because of subjectivity and selectivity slippery Memory... differing truths: emotional, factual, historical, scientific etc.)

Here's the vague essay quiz I wrote for this class (because of time constraints--only an hour--I decided to be playful with the form, I used a hybrid of cohesive paragraphs and fragmented definitions... some metaphors...)

Title: Literary/Craft: Art before Story

The most important aspect of Memoir I learned this week dealt with the literary nature of this genre. Art takes precedence before the story (story is secondary). If you trace the origin of the word ‘art’ (its raw meaning), you’ll discover that it means close to the idea of ‘making’ / to make. Words, like artifice, artificial (not Natural, for example artificial intelligence), art (something made like a picture of the scenic mountains etc.) reveal some sort of manipulation (not in a sinister way, but taking charge in the shaping and molding). This manipulation uses fictional techniques, like scenes and summary, to illustrate the story and give form in order to grasp something as slippery as memory to get to deeper truths and a better understanding by musing through metaphor to express something inexpressible.

Scene- close-up, Slows down the pace, moment that reader and narrator experience together (greater connection), can include dialogues, very particular/specific moment, can have a sense of adult looking back through musings…

Summary- long-shot, overview, faster pace (covers more time in less words), reader is watching from afar, introduces, recaps, fills information/background, gives a sense of adult looking back, embedded quotes (usually repeated, almost like a slogan that could personalize characters)

Story- the experience, trying to make meaning of experience by putting it in form (linear: chronological, sequential, or lyrical: round-about, associative, relational), once in a form, it is more concrete compared to ‘recall from memory’ (tricky- perception/limited knowledge/ factors)…

Truth like perspective differs from person to person (each has unique way of seeing the world)… each is true, different truths: emotional/factual/scientific (gravity)- (example if you ask people to define happiness, each one of them will say something different. For example: money, family, love, etc., they have different priorities, it doesn’t mean that the person who values Family is happier compared to the one who values Money… it’s what they believe, it’s subjective, recursive/dialectical (moves back and forth, shifts, not static but DYNAMIC)

Musing- getting to/trying to understand, exploring, analyzing experience, answering the ‘so what’ question (deeper subject), thinking about the experience in a bigger context, trying to find the universal truth in a personal experience

Selecting/ using significant details that enhance experience, show through Metaphor to express the inexpressible/ juxtaposition of ideas/words which at first appear incongruent but reveals to create another idea/perspective.

All of these are applied in the readings throughout this week, such as Shumaker’s “Moving Water, Tucson”, Lott’s “Towards Humility”, David Sedaris’ Naked, McNair’s “Drink It” and many more. Shumaker’s piece took an ugly/traumatizing experience like witnessing death into sometime beautiful and poetic. She made the most of her experience (turning lemons into lemonades)…(Sorry, I’m not that specific, I ran out of time…if I had more time, I’d make better/stronger connection between term and application from these samples).

In the Memoir, truth becomes more apparent. One is able to understand the deeper meaning not just the surface and thus understand the self, its relations to life (multiple sides/complexity of the person). Memoir is like a performance (folklore sense) where a heightened sense of awareness/consciousness is achieved.


It's been an intensed week, waking up at at 6 or 6:30 so I could leave the house by 7:30 am (at the least) because it started at 8... sometimes, I won't be sleeping until 1 am (busy reading, writing critiques/own work, etc.)... Wednesday and Thursday, I was so tired, i had to crash at 11:30 pm and wake extra early to catch up in my work... my final portfolio is due next friday Aug. 8... the good thing is that the hours next week will be dedicated to writing my stuff and reading (non-assignments)... I can set up my schedule, more time to sleep...

After next friday (8/8)- I have to start focusing on 2010...

Despite of being sleep-deprived, one of the great things I got out of this intense seminar is inspiration (new ideas on what to explore/ what to write, a great intro to this genre, application of process, self-discovery and many more!)

Posted by Michael Diezmos at August 1, 2008 4:34 PM

Mike, it's always intersting to hear how you are continuing to develop as a life-long learner. How many more MA credits do you need? What next, after you get the MA?

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at August 1, 2008 9:06 PM

Hey dr. jerz,... I think all I need are 12 credits (6 this sem, and 6 in the spring)... what's next? I have to find a more STABLE job near home in order to have some time so I can focus in trying to break into the writing market, children's folklore will be a hobby (like those sunday painters)...

Posted by: mike d at September 6, 2008 11:43 PM
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