False Starts. How much do they cost? Another of my beach-comber bottle posts.
Having made a quick sprint to recover this blog, I was called back to the starting line. That dissipated resolve, and led to heavy panting. I am still crouched on the blocks.
The same is happening to the writing of a memoir. I can shape a chapter with some pleasure, but where do any of them fit? It is leading me to ask about the cost of false starts.
As some of my followers know I have recently taken a course whose purpose was to assist defining one’s relevance in this over crowded marketplace, and that course returned each of the participants to their ‘signature story’ their life that had determined their creativity. It was in the life itself that the story begins, and gives the passion to fuel the work.
In my case the life WAS the work, the signature story was written by the Book-to-Come. Every ingredient necessary, every vocabulary mastered, every deprivation cogent. Nothing irrelevant. Okay so far? My life was planned backwards, only I did not realise that, so there was much barking of shins.
I believe this is true of every life; the Soul’s Code to carve out a personal destiny with each sharp knife of experience, whittling away until something steel and slim remains.
Here’s the problem. Memory is multilayered, not chronological (though some tidy it up that way in autobiography), the important events shine starkly and often without reason or logical context. I can remember some hit-below-the-belt moments that took breath away; my first meeting with a horse whose smell presaged the smell of a baby, not in anyway alike, but alike in their distinctiveness and perfection. Inimitable. I remember seeing ancient Greek written on a blackboard by a teacher fluent in Greek who teased out the nuances of Agape, Eros, and Charis and I thought that knowledge worth a Persepolis and dying for. I remember a Catholic seminarian singing, on a Lesotho mountain track, Danny Boy in a voice like Bing Crosby’s which made me pine for a country I had never known. These shafts of longing came from other lives and other times. My current one floats like flotsam on those deeper currents.
Try to give such expansions of inexplicable joy any kind of framework (other than poetic fragments) and they enter a straitjacket that rob them of power. I start anew each day, and with each attempt the immediacy is rubbed away, the material worn smooth where it was and should remain, rough or rustic. I am alarmed and increasingly afraid that if I continue they will disappear altogether.
I know that putting one’s house in order, which is what writing a memoir is attempting, is a tidying and systematic process, but for there to be any value in offering it to a reader, it must retain that immediacy, and false starts strip it of vitality. Memory and dreams work best indirectly, from peripheral corners-of-the-eye. Life’s pedantic frames hang lifelessly, and can be set in any order. The drawers of the decades, open and shut, all over familiar, inter-tangled by unmatched pairs of socks you hope to unite. I want simply to tip them out on the floor and let a reader rifle through them, a circular work without beginning or end.
Here’s the rub. Books are chronological, language likewise, and time is the least important component of Memory’s rich store. You can bid a fictional character to guide your story; your own is already set, and I am not interesting to myself. Since I am not a musician it seems I must accept the strait jacket and allow myself some madness.
Does anyone else feel this? Wrestle with it? Have a work-a-day answer?
P.S. Yes I have read ‘How to memoir’ books, and am now reading other people’s mastery of memoirs. Those are other people’s stories, and retain the fascination of the ‘other’.