Even though I travel, I have learned to make use of the long empty interstate stretches and evenings to catch up on my reading for the MFA Program. Following the residency, I had a bunch of new poetry and memoir selections from guest speakers to read and a set of assigned readings for the upcoming semester. We're reading:
- The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick
- The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew by Sue William Silverman
- The Empathy Exams Essays by Leslie Jamison
- Full Body Burden : Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen
- Prairie Silence: A Memoir by Melanie Hoffert
- I selected Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writer's of/on Creative Nonfiction by Robert L. Root Jr. and Michael Steinberg as my optional book because I felt I wanted a better understanding of essay as opposed to memoir (we were told the percentage of narrative played a large part in the definition) as well as a look at some of the variations along the way.
I've completed a first reading of the above books except for the last. I like to reread along with the class curriculum because I find it makes me pay more careful attention and allows me to find the needed references to class discussion questions because I already have a familiarity with the book outline and don't have to rush to finish at the expense of the work.
Besides the reading and cleaning my house so that I now have my reading separated into genre piles and shelves, I have also taken on two new volunteer duties in addition to my upcoming aid to an Earthwatch.org project to help with a global warming study, one as a reader for a contest, the other as a teacher for my church catechism.
I also have a good idea about how I am going to frame my memoir. Framing, I learned in the residency, is what they call the story line as it varies in time and perspective despite having a single narrator. Although the narration will be by me, the story alters during the twenty year time of events as I age, but also as a result of this project and as a result of lessons learned. Some of what alters when selecting a frame, is verb tense, maturity of voice, time, as well as what is driving the project.
I was given a bit of critique flak because of one scene written as a six-year-old, and one as a twenty year old without any framing. At six-years-old, I often just repeated what I had been told without understanding how it might be viewed, especially in modern times. Our family changed many things down the road of life including how my parents disciplined children, roles and responsibilities and diet.
Bonnie Rough very helpfully provided an introductory set of questions to be answered.
Before my idea about how to frame the memoir, I had developed a list of "situations" or "scenes" that I felt were important to cover in the overall story line. I've worked at drafting the situations and at writing attempts at the frames. I heard loudly what readers liked and disliked. I do stubbornly maintain my view of the style of memoir, one with a future look upon it which I have seen used in writing, and my need to have my perspective for the project grounded in research, although the style is something I am going to have to experiment with along the way. In the residency, I did my book report on Da Chen's "Colors of the Mountain" and just doing that based on my earlier reading assignments I found that I hadn't grounded the book in our family. I didn't really want to write about my family so much as the situation we were all involved in, but I can see that without doing a gossip columnist shark attack on all members of my family (I think this has to be the nightmare all writer's face when considering writing memoir), I could still introduce them in such a way that people could see the complexity of their personae and the dynamics within a family, all which had effects on the outcome of the situation.
I especially liked the rich style of essay/memory Steven Harvey used in one of his pieces we read about his mother. I am not quite certain I am up to that level of writing, but maybe. I do have a slightly different tangent because I very much want to write something helpful, useful, upbeat, even if the topic is quite sad and downbeat. I don't want a chirpy voice that says I've got rose-colored glasses.
I had already started many of my situations as essays and when I discussed it with Bonnie Rough and Kate Hopper, they both indicated that "situations" could be within short essays and reframed into our final project/memoir.
So that brings me back to the need to submit my work. I quit submitting until I was firmly into a writing program that I felt comfortable with, and now that I have done much of the spit and polish sort of requirements I should have the next two weeks for writing, editing and submitting. Wish me luck.