One of the panels on the Thursday of NonFictioNow was called Writ Large: On Living The Lives We’ve Made For The Page. The panel featured Cheryl Strayed, Ira Sukrungruang, Mira Bartok and Barrie Jean Borich – all memoirists, talking about how they negotiate writing from life, and continuing to live that life when it’s been written.
One thing that emerged as a common experience for all of these writers is that of having readers confuse the constructed, written memoir with the actual, lived life.
“[Readers] don’t see the book as an artifice,” said Sukrungruang, “they see it as your life.”
All of these authors had been approached by readers and spoken to in a way that implied that there was no gap between author and work; between the story and the world. This kind of simplistic view of memoir (that it’s a process of slapping life down on a page) is simplistic, and worrying. It concerns me that readers are expecting verbatim information – it’s fraught for so many reasons. Writing is a creative process, it’s filtered through perspective and memory, it’s forcing something non-linear or sensible into a linear narrative with… a point. As a writer, I am aware of this when reading any piece of writing that comes from life.
In a later conversation with fellow blogger Alice Robinson, we considered what kinds of personas we create online for ourselves. I feel like this blog is reasonably transparent, and that there isn’t a large gap between myself (lived) and myself (written). But there is a gap, no denying it.
I’ve had people recognize me before. “Oh! You’re Little Girl With a Big Pen!”
This Writ Large panel really made me think about where that gap lies for me. I won’t bother to explain it here; those who know me well no doubt can see the space far better than I myself can.
It could be a site of tension, if I let it be. I refuse to let it be that though, I just know that it’s something I’m very interested in. I find the decisions I make in crafting myself interesting, both in blogging and in my current memoir project. I also find it interesting to hear about how people understand those decisions, and whether the divide between public and private, written and lived personas is a problem.
Maybe it’s similar to the way that we all wear different masks in different situation. No situation is maskless, life being a constant performance. It’s just that when it’s written, it’s more static and dissect-able.