2010 PAD- Day 9

I think this is my favorite poem so far, in the Poetic Asides challenge. I wrote it while circling the track at the gym this morning. Every lap, I had a new line. Thank goodness I remembered to bring my little notepad and a pen with me. I must admit though, I got a few strange looks every time I whipped out my notebook and jotted something down. I’m not quite sure what people thought I was taking notes on…

The prompt was to write a self-portrait poem.

In a Mirror

I am a (credit) card carrying,
tennis shoe wearing, soccer mom
who answers to
“Mom, where’s my jacket?”
and “Mom, I need the cars keys”,
but especially to “I love you, Mom”.
I have an inner voice
who whispers sweet nothings
into my ear,
when I need it the most.
In my dreams, I see myself
running barefoot on the beach
wind in my hair
spray of surf on my face.
I am seventeen.

I am a poet, a dreamer,
a worshiper of words,
a wife, mother, sister, aunt,
all wrapped up into one,
my father’s daughter,
my mother’s baby girl.
I speak not only when spoken to
but whenever I have something to say,
that just won’t wait.
I even sometimes know
when to stop talking.

I never deliberately step on an ant,
and avoid sidewalk cracks
at all costs. I embrace the ordinary,
as well as the extraordinary, expect little
and am often pleasantly surprised.
I do not stay home and bake cookies
with my kids, but secretly want to.

I read when I’m not writing,
write when I’m not reading
and rarely live in the moment
though the moment lives in me.

Dead End Gene Pool

My review of local author Wendy Burden’s recent release, Dead End Gene Pool, is now posted on Reading Local: Portland.  http://bit.ly/aONP5J This is a darkly humorous memoir, written by a descendant of the Vanderbilts. After reading this and the previous book I reviewed, Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen, by Jimmy McDonough,  http://bit.ly/bLJYdO I am more convinced than ever that it’s more fun to read about the rich and famous, than to be one of them!

Book Review: The Wink of the Zenith

In my continuing series of book reviews with an Oregon connection, the following is a review of Floyd Skloot’s The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer’s Life. Read more of my reviews at Amazon.com: http://bit.ly/5C9RIL

5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Examination of “The Shaping of a Writer’s Life”, January 20, 2010

In The Wink of the Zenith, his fourth memoir, Floyd Skloot turns his focus on how his past shaped his life as a writer. Through a series of overlapping essays, arranged in roughly sequential order, Skloot reconstructs memories vividly in order to examine how the influences of his past turned him towards a writing life. In the chapters covering his childhood in Brooklyn, and later on Long Island, what emerges is a stark portrait of a lonely boy with a vivid imagination, who struggles to make sense of his father’s untimely death and his mother’s cruelty.

Through a baseball essay originally assigned by a teacher as punishment, and through his fascination with the world presented to him by the television set his family owned (the Zenith of the title), Skloot details how he came to discover the creative world of writing and how it functioned to provide him an escape from his troubled life.

Subsequent essays follow Skloot during his undergraduate years at Franklin and Marshall College, where under the mentorship of his advisor, he discovers Faulkner and embarks on a comprehensive study of the works of Hardy, and continue into his early years as a writer. The essays in the third part cover his adult years, as he copes simultaneously with his mother’s Alzheimer’s, and with cognitive changes in himself brought on after contracting a virus in his early forties that left him with neurological damage. It is a testament to Skloot’s writing skills that what emerges is an always compelling, sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant account of how he got where he is today as a writer.

The Wink of the Zenith was a 2009 Oregon Book Award Finalist in the category of creative nonfiction.

Memoir, Who Cares?

I’m still thinking about Melissa Hart’s memoir workshop last weekend. As the population of the planet creeps towards seven billion, and I contemplate writing my memoir, I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering: who cares about the memoir of a very ordinary person? But for every question, there’s an answer. Several in fact. Here, after some deliberation, are mine:

10) You do!

9) Ditto Mom and Dad (especially Mom).

8 ) Some other family members will, curious (and perhaps a bit nervous) about how you portray them.

7) Friends will, if they’re true friends.

6) Casual acquaintances especially will be gratified to be associated with a real author, as they have no fear of being portrayed in a bad light (or for that matter, in any kind of light at all). They can sit back and relax and just enjoy.

5) Fellow memoirists will be perusing it, to scout out the competition.

4) The news media will (if you should be so lucky!) to get the scoop on the next breakout memoir, or if you’re not lucky, to pan your memoir.

3) Your devoted blog followers will, pleased to have been in on the growth of your memoir from a fledgling idea in one of your posts, to the real thing.

2) People from your past might, curious to know what happened to you.

1) But if you’re really, really lucky, at least one kindred spirit will read your story and relish it, perhaps seeing themselves in one of your characters or discovering some great and elusive truth about their own life from it, and be eternally grateful that you had the courage to share your story.

I write for that one person!

Not Sabrina…

I went to hear Melissa Hart speak, this afternoon. She shared with us that she legally changed her name before publishing her memoir “Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood” to protect the privacy of those involved. She then went on to ruefully admit that she should have done more research before choosing her pseudonym, as there are two other well-known Melissa Harts: the politician and  Sabrina the Teenage Witch. (Btw, I learned from Google that Melissa Jane Hart, a.k.a. Sabrina was born in my hometown of Smithtown. Who knew?)

But back to the Melissa at hand. She ran an extremely helpful workshop on writing and marketing memoir. Some key elements of memoir, according to Melissa:

  • Conflict and resolution
  • Setting (place, season, time of day, what’s on the wall,…)
  • Characterization (especially important to make sure characters have flaws!)
  • Dialogue (her personal favorite)
  • A narrative arc (rising action, climax, falling action)
  • Use of hyperbole (especially in humorous memoir)
  • Use of metaphor/simile (and other literary techniques)
  • Plenty of sensory details (to make scenes come alive; don’t neglect smell and taste)
  • A reflection piece

She went on to say that what publishers and editors are looking for are fresh stories they haven’t heard a million times already. Just because something happened to us doesn’t necessarily make it memoir-worthy. A memoir needs a particular angle or theme that makes it unique. If  you can write humorously on a social issue that people are afraid to touch or tie in your memoir with current events, then you have a good chance of being published.

The Wit and Wisdom of Wordstock

Am I the only one who takes notes at book talks and panels? Well, maybe. But I remember so much more as a result. I was particularly riveted by the panel on “Truth and Story”, moderated by Debra Gwartney, with panel members Julia Glass, Jeannette Walls and Laurie Sandell, since I write a lot of creative non-fiction. I also saw Jeannette Walls and Julia Glass individually, at separate talks.

There were so many quotable quotes, it was all I could do to note some of them down. I don’t claim to have the words 100% accurate, as I was listening as well as I could to some fairly fast-paced discussion while simultaneously attempting to capture some of it on the page. Here then is the flavor of some of the highlights, as closely as I remember them. I have attributed them to a specific person wherever possible.

  • “The truth is a liquid, not a solid.”
  • “Even though we have the same facts, we have different truths.”
  • “My fancy doesn’t fly, it burrows.” (Jeannette Walls, on why she writes memoir rather than fiction)
  • “The best fiction reads like non-fiction and the best non-fiction reads like fiction.” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “All serious fiction is emotionally autobiographical in some way.” (Julia Glass)
  • “Everyone has ownership of his or her own story.” (Laurie Sandell)
  • “Secrets are like vampires. They suck the life out of you, but they can only exist in darkness.” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “The details of our lives are very similar, even if the stories are different.”
  • “I mix what I know from my own life with fictional elements, to intensify the truth of the story.” (Julia Glass on why her books are classified as fiction, rather than memoir.)
  • “We shape our truths by which stories we choose to tell and how we choose to tell them. You have to trust your impressions and memories of things” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “It’s not what you remember, but why you remember it that way.” (Debra Gwartney)
  • “One of the most difficult aspects of writing a memoir is finding your voice– you have to be true to your voice.”
  • “We get our happiness not from being superior to others, but by making those connections and finding common ties.” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “Every challenge is wrapped up with a gift, if you choose to accept it.” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “Everyone needs to experience things outside of their sphere– that’s why we read memoir.” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “Scars are a sign that you survived—that you are stronger than the thing that tried to hurt you.” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “A luxury once tasted becomes a necessity.” (Oscar Wilde) [No, he wasn’t actually physically present at Wordstock—only in spirit. 😉 ]