Tag Archives: family

“My life is not a story,” Wrote the Memoirist

28 Feb

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After reading about how Benjamin Anastas describes his father as “a brooding Greek beatnik” who is “potbellied from lentils and with a beard down to his solar plexus chakra,” I knew I had to read his memoir Too Good to Be True. After all, I write about  Greeks and so-called beatniks. Too Good to Be True is the story of the breakup of his marriage and the dissolution of his writing career.

Its not told in an overtly emotional manner, yet its frankness is almost unsettling. These days we’re used to people baring all when it comes to relationships, but to tell the truth about money? To admit that even though he’d taught at an Ivy League and published in big-name magazines, he had to dig around in couch cushions to come up with money for his son’s dinner? That’s the type of honesty that’s hard to read because you worry he’s sabotaging his career by admitting his writing isn’t going all that well and putting it out there for editors and agents to read without the distance of time.

But isn’t that the struggle of the memoirist? While many critics claim that memoir writing is egocentric, a memoirist must lay down his ego. He must sacrifice self and present the truth. And while a memoirist may be introspective by nature, the beauty of memoir is discovering the truth along with the author.

This section from the chapter “Old Friends” is worth considering in terms of both memoir writing and living life:

How much of our lives do we write, and how much of them are written for us? I’ve been thinking about this problem lately, looking back over the trail that brought me to this place, and reading my progress at every step along the way—as adrift as I have been from the usual compass points, as unaware of my direction—for signs of an author, for the fingerprints left behind by some great invisible hand. My life is not a story. It has never been a story, not for me, not even while I’ve been taking great pains with this testament to tell it truthfully on the page. I am in too deep to call it a story. It hurts too much for me to understand it. But I am trying.

The contents of the book may center around infidelity and a mid-career slump, but the deeper story, the one that Anastas circles around to, is the relationship between parents and children, the relationship he had with his parents and the relationship he has with his son.

If I could request a follow up to Too Good to Be True, I would ask Benjamin Anastas to write a memoir about his childhood.

Thanksgiving and Lamenting

22 Nov

image via Burnside Writers Collective

Super impressed by all of you who were already posting photos on Facebook last night of delicious-looking Thanksgiving food.  I saw “papou’s stuffing” and “maple-glazed brussels sprouts” and pie galore.  My family was always in charge of bringing dessert and liquor.  We’d pick up the cake — no pie from us; it had to be chocolate cake — along the way.  The Glenlivet was already in the closet.  I’m carrying on the tradition.  No measuring and mixing going on over here.  I’ll stop and pick up some wine along the way to my aunt and uncle’s.

This Thanksgiving season, I’ve been seeing a lot of daily posts on Facebook on what people are thankful for, which is a great practice and quite beautiful. However, I also have a lot of friends who are going through significant struggles. It’s okay to feel sad, hurt, angry, or frustrated. It’s important that we acknowledge that our lives don’t always go as planned and that we don’t pretend that our lives are perfect. Sometimes on Facebook, it’s easy to get the impression that people’s lives are so much better than our own, but we don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes.

I’ll confess that I was a bit “jealous” of my colleague, Emily Timbol, who wrote this article on lament and thanksgiving: “Let’s Have a Kvetch Fest.” Her writing career is going really well. She writes for the Huffington Post, has participated in radio interviews, and has made great progress with her book. I’m happy for her, but at times frustrated with my own writing. In this article, she shares her frustrations with her writing. This does not bring me joy. I think she has an important story to tell and has an engaging voice, and I want her to succeed. Her honesty, though, was a good reminder to me not to compare myself to others and not to be so hard on myself. I share all this because I believe it’s important to be thankful even in the difficult times, however I also believe that when we’re open with each other we learn that we’re not alone in our struggles, our fears, our frustrations, our sadness, our loneliness, our insecurities, and on and on.

She Threw Out Her Cell Phone and Packed On the Road

13 Nov

This young woman gets up to the microphone.  She speaks confidently but not in a rehearsed manner as she tells her story.   She’s been in New York City only for a few months now, since sometime this summer.  Unlike many people, she wasn’t intent on staying here.  New York City wasn’t her dream destination.  She had run away from home.  Her plan was to flee the East Coast for the West.  Californ-i-a.  She packed her bags and hit the road.  Along the way, she met a guy and became involved with a church in Manhattan.  She decided to stay.  She decided to share her story with others.

Afterwards, I approach her.  I want to know more.  Why had she left, throwing out her cell phone so no one could even get in touch with her?  Has she reconciled with those she left behind?  She answers my questions and asks about the book — Burning Furiously Beautiful — I had read from at the same microphone as her.  She tells me that of the few possessions she packed with her when she left home, one of them was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.