I Suck at Memoir Writing

Get Meta With Me

           “Honey, I’m terrible at memoir writing,” I say, forlorn, my bare feet plopped on the leather couch near K’s lap, my Kindle hiding my distressed expression.

            K studies his Microsoft Surface tablet. He meticulously erases the apron from a .png of Rosie, the humanoid maid from The Jetsons, using the tablet’s pen. It’s the Sunday night of a long weekend and K is working on a new project(!), while I read. The ceiling fan whirls cool air, clearing the living room of wisps of marijuana smoke from a joint perched on an ashtray decorated with Moroccan patterns.

            It took five months of motoring, over 2,221 nautical miles, for K to recharge. His boat trip commenced in socialite-infested West Palm Beach and concluded in mosquito-infested Thunder Bay. He’s buzzing with energy.

            “You can’t worry about what people think,” K advises, without looking up from his digital drawing.

            I assume K is referencing the negative commentary a reprint of my essay in the Globe & Mail inspired. I’m like Pandora. Although I know I shouldn’t read online comments, I can’t help but peek, only to have my skin melted off by the fiery breath of evil trolls.

            “I’m not!” I defend. “I’m reading a book on how to write memoirs—” The Art of the Memoir by Mary Karr, to be specific, although I don’t bother K with such details. He’ll see the receipt soon enough from Amazon’s Kindle Store. A real saint, he bought me the compact, purple e-reader, linked to his Amazon account for Valentine’s Day. At the time, he may not have understood exactly how much reading I do; but, now, his credit card statement is a monthly reminder of what a voracious reader I am. (It’s like an adult report card! Let it shower gold stars!) 

           “I break all the rules of good memoir writing. All of them,” I lament.   

           “Such as…?” K asks, more as a matter of indulgence than interest. He’s focused like he’s Michelangelo, back arched on a wood rafter, painting the Sistine Chapel, while his wannabe-poet-slash-assistant drones on about not being able to master iambic pentameter.

           “Telling the truth!” I answer. “Apparently, you’re not supposed to embellish details or fictionalize dialogue, unless you’re upfront with your readers first, that is. You can make stuff up, but you must let your audience know. For example, if you don’t remember exactly what was said—in the pivotal, life-changing moment you are documenting for strangers— you should say ‘this is the essence of the conversation’, before taking any creative liberties.”

           “Well, maybe this is a good time to let the reader know I didn’t actually say this.”

           “OK, point taken,” I nod. “You didn’t say anything like that. I’m adding dialogue to expeditiously move this scene forward.”

            “I also didn’t say, ‘Go on, what other rules of memoir writing are you offending?’”  

           (Fictitious K rocks my world. He’s like real-life K, but he doesn’t mind cilantro or pickled foods. And, it helps I can make him say anything I want for plot’s sake.)

           “No, you didn’t say that either. I just babbled on while you doodled Robots, but scenes are more interesting with two people, so I wrote you in,” I explain. “Now, to answer your question, good memoir writing is carnal, meaning of the senses. One must describe the world around them— the smells, sounds, and feelings— to make the reader feel transported into the scene. I write more from my head than my nose, ears, or heart. I’m a neurotic writer, not sensual!”

           I dig for a potato chip from a greasy bag, which I added to this scene in post-production. In reality, there were no potato chips in the house that Sunday night. The summer spent at camp, I let my potato chip eating and beer drinking go unbridled and now it’s time to reign it in. I’m in withdrawal. If there’s anything I can get sensual about, it’s this, so here goes. 

           The bag crinkles as my balmy fingers navigate its greasy innards. Smells of salt and vinegar waft to my nostrils like waves rolling into a marina barge. I crunch on a chip, mimicking my sneaker stomping on barnacles bound to tide-beaten rocks. Grains of salt linger on my fingers, like beads of sand after—

            “If you’re going for carnal, describe the smell of your feet,” K interrupts, squeezing my toes. “Try, sacks of flesh disseminating their putrid pollen.”

           “Hey, come on now! My pheromones attracted you,” I defend, curling my toes under my legs, “like sirens to a shipwreck; to a neurotic liar of writer, who doesn’t even afford her subjects the opportunity to choose their own pseudonym! That’s the last rule I’m breaking, by the way. I arbitrarily labelled you ‘K’, but I should have let you choose your fake name. Apparently, it’s goodwill to ask your subjects how they’d like their identities disguised before you expose their lives to strangers. So, what would you like to be called?”

           K— new name pending™— shrugs. “I don’t know. Killer?”

           “No, that’s too distracting,” I veto.

           “How about Killer 1962?”

           “That sounds like a screenname you’d use on the dark web. Too creepy.”


           “Is that a real word?”

           “It’s like my rapper name. Kids will love it. They’ll be saying it soon, like an adjective. ‘Dude, that’s so dopetonic.’

            “I don’t think kids say ‘dude’ anymore. I need a real name, please, this is serious.”

            “Hmm… Emmanuel?”

            Later, Emmanuel Macron and I cuddle in bed before falling asleep. He’s thinking of foreign policy and climate change and croissants. I am musing about memoir.

            Maybe, one day, I’ll be brave enough to examine MY TRUTH™ with the magnify glass of memoir. Until then, you can sift it from my fiction. Thanks for reading. 


Photo: Copyright 2017, Laura Lynn Petrick.



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