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.
27/11/2012 at 5:19 am
I think it is similar to the masks we wear in everyday life. I’m sure I’m one person to one friend and another person to another, based on what commonalities I have with each person and the circumstances that have brought us together and keep us together. But it is true that readers tend to confuse the “hard copy,” the written artifact (that this word is related to artifice is good here), with the real person who is the writer. Is every part of me a writer? maybe. But I am many different writers. I even have 3 blogs and am a different person in each one, but not intentionally, as it has to do with subject/focus. Excellent post!!
27/11/2012 at 8:28 am
I like your question, is all of you a writer? I wonder if ‘writer’ is something essential that appears behind all experiences and personas?
27/11/2012 at 9:22 am
That’s a good question! I didn’t think so at first, but now I wonder if writing is part of all my identities. That I am in involved in and observe everything as a writer? I’ll have to spy on myself and see if I find any identities where I’m not a writer haha.