Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What is the role of memory in memoir? (12/15/09)



Featured writer: David S. Johnson



Contributors this month:
Becky Povich
David S. Johnson
Don Edgers
Elaine Webster
Morgan Baker
Susan Bono


About me

by David S. Johnson

And who is it that wants to hear stories about me? Mama? I suspect she will listen to anything I say because it keeps me on the phone longer. My friends? Sure, especially if they're a part of the story even if we can't agree about how the story goes. The girlfriend listens because she has no choice in studio apartment. What has happened so dramatically, so traumatically and unequivocally touching with lessons learned that I can find throngs of readers climbing over each other to read what they perceive as true stories about me? What about me can I sell to you?

I would consult my memory but he is a terrible writer. He has no flow, no verb good, and no sense of narrative arc. He doesn't write in streams of consciousness, but in dribbles of stupor. He is a fraternity brother, a loud and rowdy uncle, and a dirty old man who loves to tell anecdotes. He is a poet, a sundried soul, a flower's droop and he whispers musings. He offers clues, but is often short on details. At times he flits about ideas like a hummingbird after slamming a speedball and narrates my head in a non-sequitur language of a Tourettes patient screaming in military phonetics. Alpha-Charlie-jambalaya-milk-sock-boobs-comet-grass! Other times he has the recall power of dried moss and the goofy thing just sits like an unblinking, mouth-breathing teenager. Worst of all is he under constant peer-pressure from Imagination.

But even if I get the facts right in a few watershed moments of my life, is this what I should tell you about? How do a few moments that represent less than 1% of my life represent me? I am not unlike you. I wonder if someone just saw me pick my nose in the car. I sing out loud in the sunshine when I shouldn't. When I hear the neighbors having sex I say, "Are you kidding me? It's not even dark yet." but keep the TV muted for just a few moments longer than is polite. These things are part of my life, but I wouldn't tell you about them because I am writer and I'm trying to sell you something. Something built with a schizophrenic memory and a personal flawed logic to glue the pieces together. I am trying to sell me. And for that I should not be trusted.

David Samuel Johnson should not be trusted in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.



I Know What I Know

  by Becky Povich

I read somewhere recently that if you intend to write a memoir, you need to talk to other people who were with you in your day-to-day life and who accompanied you in your various adventures, because chances are, their memories will be different from yours. I immediately thought how scary that sounded. How in the world could I (or anyone) write a memoir and feel completely at ease with its truth?

I've asked my older sister questions concerning her memories of certain events, and most times she's been really helpful in making some sense out of the bits and pieces of memory stored in my child's mind. At other times, though, she's been dead wrong, which validates the statement about different memories.

And so…I've made the decision that only I can write my memoir. Only I know what I witnessed, what I heard, what feelings I felt, and what long and short-term effects all those memories have had on me. And, in the forward of my memoir, I'll disclose just that.

Becky Povich lives and writes in the Midwest. Her big talk regarding writing her memoir has finally become a burning desire, so look out world, 2010 is gonna be her year…no more procrastinating! You can read Becky’s blog at: www.beckypovich.blogspot.com

or e-mail her at : Writergal53@aol.com.


About me

  by David S. Johnson

And who is it that wants to hear stories about me? Mama? I suspect she will listen to anything I say because it keeps me on the phone longer. My friends? Sure, especially if they're a part of the story even if we can't agree about how the story goes. The girlfriend listens because she has no choice in studio apartment. What has happened so dramatically, so traumatically and unequivocally touching with lessons learned that I can find throngs of readers climbing over each other to read what they perceive as true stories about me? What about me can I sell to you?

I would consult my memory but he is a terrible writer. He has no flow, no verb good, and no sense of narrative arc. He doesn't write in streams of consciousness, but in dribbles of stupor. He is a fraternity brother, a loud and rowdy uncle, and a dirty old man who loves to tell anecdotes. He is a poet, a sundried soul, a flower's droop and he whispers musings. He offers clues, but is often short on details. At times he flits about ideas like a hummingbird after slamming a speedball and narrates my head in a non-sequitur language of a Tourettes patient screaming in military phonetics. Alpha-Charlie-jambalaya-milk-sock-boobs-comet-grass! Other times he has the recall power of dried moss and the goofy thing just sits like an unblinking, mouth-breathing teenager. Worst of all is he under constant peer-pressure from Imagination.

But even if I get the facts right in a few watershed moments of my life, is this what I should tell you about? How do a few moments that represent less than 1% of my life represent me? I am not unlike you. I wonder if someone just saw me pick my nose in the car. I sing out loud in the sunshine when I shouldn't. When I hear the neighbors having sex I say, "Are you kidding me? It's not even dark yet." but keep the TV muted for just a few moments longer than is polite. These things are part of my life, but I wouldn't tell you about them because I am writer and I'm trying to sell you something. Something built with a schizophrenic memory and a personal flawed logic to glue the pieces together. I am trying to sell me. And for that I should not be trusted.

David Samuel Johnson should not be trusted in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.



Memory’s role in Memoir

  by Don Edgers

The Declaration of Memoirists states: We hold our memoirs to be self-evident - all memories are not created or remembered equally.

If a memoir was —

A recipe, the main ingredient would be memory.
A play, the main character would be Memory.
A poem, the theme would be memory.
A building, the foundation would be memory.
A jigsaw puzzle, memory would be the outside boarder pieces.
A mathematical fraction, memory would be the common denominator.
A sampler box of chocolates, memory would be the chocolate covering.
A box of 64 colors of crayons, memory would be about 16 colors.

Don Edgers writes memoirs in Port Orchard, WA. Using my memoir, An Island In Time II: Coming of age in the 1950’s as a paradigm, I had to augment my memory with e-mails, interviews, phone calls and years of research.
www.anislandintime.com


What Is The Role of Memory In Memoir?

  by Elaine Webster

Writing memoir is more challenging than writing fiction. Although the elements are similar, you're not supposed to make up stuff. Darn! Yet, our memory plays tricks. And point of view—even trickier.

I remember the first time I fell in love. Well, we all know that love distorts like nothing else. I remember a handsome, smart, charming boy who could read the hieroglyphics off the tomb walls at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as if he was King Tut himself. I spoke with this boy recently, now a man, still smart, handsome and charming (and very married by the way) and he remembers that time as dark and disturbed. I never saw it. I was in love. Who is right? What is true? It depends who you ask.

So . . . I'm writing my memoir. First, I have to introduce myself to the reader. I start as an adolescent. What teenager has a clear picture of who they are? None that I know. If I didn't know myself then, how can I remember how I was? I can only describe how it felt and even that is murky. So I fill in the holes, push in the gaps, and smooth out the edges with scenes that depict those feelings. The reader may not have a clear precise history, but I've accomplished my goal—to show them me, to the best of my ability, as I remember it. I allow them to be voyeurs. They see the beautiful and the ugly, the shameful and the pure.

I recently had a frank discussion with myself. I realized I have two versions of my life story that I can write and neither would be a lie—although they would be remarkably different. So, how is this possible? Versioning—we all do it. We tell one version of an experience one way to our parents and another way to our friends. Do you think my mother heard the same version of my first date, with my first love, that I told my friends? No way . . . not unless I wanted to be grounded for a week.

So what did I decide to write? you ask. I'm going to write the "tell it to a friend version". Why?—because it's more true than the fluff version. It's scary as hell and I may regret parts, may even hurt people, may hurt myself, but it will be a true recording. Kind of like the Egyptians did on their tombs.

Elaine Webster, is a staff writer for the on-line publication, Greener Living Today www.greenerlivingtoday.com. She’s part of the Memoir Writing group in Sebastopol sponsored by SRJC and Steve Boga is the instructor. She lives in Windsor, CA and her e-mail address is Elaine@mediadesign-mds.com.

What is the Role of Memory in Memoir

  by Morgan Baker

Memory ignites the writer's imagination and emotional response to past events and people in her life. Memory is the starting point for delving into what's important in the writer's past and present and then making sense of how the two are connected and bringing that to life for the reader in the form of a memoir. Memory gets the writer thinking and wondering about why she remembers a certain event and why she remembers it the way she does when it's entirely possible her cousin or brother may remember the same event completely differently.

Without memory, we have no past. Memory allows us to create memoir for readers - whether our children or the public. Memory says we were here. Memory and memoir connect us.

Morgan Baker teaches Creative Nonfiction at Emerson College in Boston. Her creative nonfiction has been published in the New York Times "Lives",Underwired Magazine, United Parenting Publications, The Boston Globe, anthologies and The Emerson Review.

Over the Rainbow

  by Susan Bono

Memory is the rainbow I follow; memoir is the gold I've gathered by journey's end.

Susan Bono is keeping it brief this month in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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