I attended the Taos Summer Writersâ€™ Conference because I won the D. H. Lawrence Fellowship.Â In order to win the fellowship, I had to submit a sample of my recent work which, in this case, was my book City of Regret.Â What the fellowship offers is paid vacation â€“ except for the fact that you have to pay for your own travel â€“ where you can focus on reading(s) and writing and talking about writing with complete strangers who will be less-than-complete strangers by weekâ€™s end.Â Also, you can take part in one of the workshops for free.
Now it seemed silly to me to take a workshop in poetry since I won the fellowship for my book of poetry.Â Though my poetry isnâ€™t perfect, and I often need help from friends to get a handle on what Iâ€™m trying to do in a poem, Iâ€™m confident with a line, a rhyme, a stitch in time (say that nine times fast!).Â What I wanted to do in Taos was work on a genre I have less experience in: And, so, non-fiction.
Iâ€™ve written two non-fiction pieces that would most likely fall under the category of â€œlyric essayâ€, though Iâ€™m not sure what exactly that means, or what separate creative non-fiction from memoir from book-length reportage from scientific histories.Â For the conference, I chose Debra Monroeâ€™s class (which was amazing) because the class sounded like it would be concerned with form, which is an engine I always use to drive my work.Â So what, I thought, if it says itâ€™s concerned with memoir?Â What exactly does that mean?
The Memoirist: Well, Andrew, what you need to understand is that memoir is a genre.Â As a genre, it brings with it certain expectations that readers expect to be fulfilled, such as an in-depth look at another personâ€™s life, a narrative that either follows the triumphant model (my life sucked, but now itâ€™s better) or the redemptive model (my life was great, then it sucked, and now itâ€™s better), and a clear and present sense of the writerâ€™s voice.
Fine.Â Okay.Â But what if I donâ€™t care about the writerâ€™s voice, or a specific narrative model to follow, or even an in-depth look at my life?
The Memoirist: Then, my son, you are not writing memoir.
What am I writing then?
The Memoirist: Something bad, ill-considered, and certainly unreadable.
Yeah, okay, well, thank you for your help.
The Memoirist: Buy my memoir!
Will do.Â Now, what Iâ€™ve been writingâ€”
The Memoirist: Itâ€™s nothing like my memoir!
I bet your memoir is about writing your memoir, isnâ€™t it?
The Memoirist: Umâ€¦ yes.
The Memoirist: Iâ€™ll go now.
See that you do.
The Memoirist: Iâ€™m totally gonna write about this.
As I was saying, although I think of my non-fiction as lyric essays rather than memoir, they do share one important similarity: all of my non-fiction, as with (nearly all?) memoir, is concerned with my own experiences.
The Memoirist: My memoir isnâ€™t concerned with your experiences.
Point taken. My non-fiction is concerned only with my experiences, mostly because each essay is an attempt at self-discovery, trying to figure out some pattern in my life, past or present, and to, well, make a sort of sense out of it.Â There is never a solution, Iâ€™d say, but there is a greater understanding of the problem.
The piece I had workshopped is about my childhood experiences with night terrors, bomb threats, and the fear that aliens would invade my school.Â Sort of.Â Itâ€™s also about knowing vs. not knowing, the self that you know vs. the self that others know, and how much control we really have in our lives.
Tune in tomorrow for part two when Iâ€™ll talk about what Iâ€™d written before the workshop, what I still need to write, and how to make your first million before you turn thirty-five.