Saturday, July 07, 2007


THE MEMOIR DEBATE

Remember all the bruhaha over James Frey and A Million Little Pieces? Remember Oprah's outrage and public defamation? Remember how we all LOVED the book, but when we found out he "lied" we HATED the book, hated James Frey, and hated the horse he rode in on? Well, my friends, that horse he rode in on is called "memoir" and perhaps now that the flames of outrage have settled a bit, we can all stand to take a second look...

I, like so many, read the book, devoured it, actually. Loved everything about it. When I learned he had "lied" I felt cheated, too. What with the whole discrepancy between time in jail, blah, blah, blah. I still think he crossed the line in a couple of key places. He moved off the "essence" of the true story towards fiction. His "bad." Our total dismissal of his writing, his humanity, his amazing story, and the whole genre? Our bad!

While the relatively new genre of memoir continues to take the heat, the genre continues to EXPLODE. Women, especially, are hungry, starving, ravenous for story, connection, for some truth that no other genre delivers in quite the same way. We want to know that real people have experienced what we are experiencing, or have experienced. We want to know we are not alone. We want acknowledgment and validation. We want illumination and hope. We want company on our lonely journeys. Memoir, when done "right" does this, and it does it well. Perfectly.

My friend, Kario, has turned me on to the wonders of Anna Nalick. Her hit song, "Breathe" speaks to this issue. As a songwriter she, too, is pouring herself out in her art, and slapping it front of all of us to criticize, on one end of the spectrum, and deeply resonate with on the other. Don't forget, what we resist, persists. That which causes the most ire tends to have the most growth opportunity if we choose to look at it closely.



"2 AM and I'm still awake writing this song
If I get it all down on paper it's no longer inside of me threaten' the life it belongs to.
And I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd
Cause these words are my diary screamin' out aloud
And I know that you'll use them however you want to.
"

What if some of our most famed and adored painters were completely dismissed for these reasons? I'm sure in their lifetimes they had plenty of people saying, "But that doesn't LOOK like anybody!" "I've never seen a sky look like THAT!" Thank God we've come to expand our thinking and make room for different views, different ways, a moving outside of the tradional boxes that bind us into remaining "as is", without allowing for what is emerging.

Picasso's "The Red Arm Chair"

Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

Like Anna Nalick says, "If I get it all down on paper it's no longer inside me threatening the life it belongs to."

We memoirists know of what she speaks. That's why we do what we do. Not because we are gluttons for punishment, but because the holding of the story is more painful than the releasing of the story and the subsequent fall-out. We write because we cannot stand NOT to write. We write to discover what it is we are really thinking and feeling. We write to process our lives, and with any luck, ourselves. We write to illuminate our past and look brightly to the future. We write to awaken ourselves, and if possible, each other. We write. If you read us and like us, all the better, but no matter what, we must write. It's what we do. We are writers. We write.

13 comments:

Michelle O'Neil said...

I heard that song on the car radio during the move and it really resonated with me.

It is so true.

There isn't a choice.

We write.

holly said...

That song got me through countless days when it first hit the radio. Now when I hear it I love feeling the contrast of where I was then and where I am now!

Fear of self blcoked me for about 10-years - so sly, it convinced me i was actually scared of writing.

Yep. We write becuae we have to.

A writer writes.

The Poetic Sister of Bossy Boots said...

There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
- Anais Nin

All I'm sayin'....

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Dear Poetic Sister,

And that's all I'm hearing you say!

Lee Wolfe Blum said...

Thank you so much for this. You are so on. I am finding freedom from some of my memories as I write them out. It is no wonder that I have over 150 journals chronicling my life. It helps me process and heal. I had no idea until recently how much I need to write.

I so appreciate this post. Great insight and encouraging!

Lee

Eileen said...

So true! New levels of understanding and healing...past, present and future. Thank you so much for this post Carrie.

kario said...

Hallelujah, sister! Glad you like the song - thrilled with the post you wrote from it. You do write!

riversgrace said...

I used to open writing sessions with that song. Just played it yesterday. Writing and the music....true voice.

Kim said...

Wonderful writing and passion, as always. I live and breathe for the power of memoir, and you express the process so beautifully. But, I strongly disagree re. James Frey.

Fiction writers and poets also tend to have a burning, insatiable desire to write that I believe is just as powerful and valuable to society as that of memoir writers (as is the need for artists to create and musicians to play). And fction is what I believed burned inside of James Frey. He originally submitted his book as a novel. He has stories to tell and the talent to tell them, but too much of that book was simply not his personal story, in any form (he was literally never in jail), so I can not condone his claim that it was.

I believe so deeply in the genre of Creative Nonfiction, in shaping your life and your emotional truth into art, in the teachings of Michael Zinsser and Vivian Gornick and Jennifer Lauck. And maybe I am too unforgiving, but I feel that out-and-out liars like Frey do horrendous damage to this important genre.

Sorry to focus on that portion of the post. The rest of it is so beautiful!!!

love,
bossy boots in training

Go Mama said...

Wow. What passion and conviction, Carrie.
Your post is on fire!

Jerri said...

Like Kim, I love your post. And like Kim, I have to weigh in on the James Frey issue.

I loved AMLP, even after the first hints that he embroidered on the truth. The beauty of the story and its power seemed more important than its literal, down to the tiny details truth.

Then we found out the discrepancies weren't details—they were the crux of the story. I wasn't ready to burn him at the stake, but sure did feel duped and cheated.

My Friend Leonard, opened with minute detail describing his ordeal during the 18 months he spent in prison after the point where AMLP left off.

Trouble is, it never happened. He did not spend ANY time in the jail he described. And that was the point where I wrote him off completely, the point where I understood the damage he'd done to the genre and to his readers.

Frey's stories in AMLP were literally lies that told a truth. They were valid and valuable. They held the potential to change lives. They were not, however, memoir.

If Frey had published them as fiction, he would not be the symbol for dishonesty that he is today. Instead, he still might be opening doors for others to walk toward healing.

Love you, Carrie. Love the song lyrics. Love your discussion of writing. Simply and respectfully disagree about JF.

Mystic Wing said...

Complicated issue, this. When reading Frey's book for the first time, as a MInneapolis resident I realized there were a number of details that just didn't ring true about the settings he was describing. But frankly, it woulldn't have been a terrible problem if the book had been presented as a biographical novel, or a work of "creative non-fiction."

It seems like a much different matter, though, when you're professing to be writing a genuine autobiography. It's entirely understandable that a writer will have his or her own unique memory of events. I expect that. But to fabricate events that never happened at all? Then why not write the story as fiction?

Anonymous said...

To the Poetic Sister of the Bossy Boots, Anais Nin knowingly and willingly (she was thirty at the time) screwed her father. And however you may justify it, particularly evoking "my truth as justification, in the real world such an act is called incest. Deirdre Bair won her second National Book Award for her biography of Anais, in which she reveals the incest.

Do get your facts straight if wish to continue in your literary pretensions.