I’ve been working on my memoir manuscript over the winter holidays, exploring the idea of subjectivity as content rather than as a tone/undercurrent. I’m trying not to censor my material and memories, and instead implementing ways to show that my memories aren’t necessarily what happened, but they are what I remember experiencing at that age. For example, at fourteen I remember taking part in a fashion parade in a language class where the teacher filmed us. I remember being scared of this filming at the time; I watched the other fourteen-year-old girls pout and swish their bodies at the camera and wondered what would happen with the film later. Now I look back, and I think the teacher was probably just doing his job, but the discomfort I felt at the time has shaped my memory of what happened.
Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote about this:
The vocabulary list for clothes sprawls across the whiteboard. Mr Breton has planned a fashion parade for Fourteen’s Japanese class, so they can have fun while they learn the words. Everyone has been asked to bring an outfit to present. Mr Breton pulls the desks together in a line and each girl struts down the catwalk, hands on her hips, new breasts puffed out. Light is caught in the sequins on their singlets. Shin-gu-ret-to. They tug at the hems of their mini skirts. Su-kaa-to. Fourteen frowns at each word’s abruptness; each one is borrowed but not understood. The syllables stick to her mouth in a porridge of half-translation. The boys hang back in the corners of the classroom, hands in pockets. Fourteen’s friend Gemma is away at a cross-country competition, and Fourteen is next to perform. Mr Breton hovers stage-front, his video camera poised and ready. Fourteen mounts the catwalk and the hem of her kimono drags across the tabletops, catching in the cracks. She wiggles her hips like she’s practised in front of the mirror in her bedroom. She peers down the barrel of Mr Breton’s camera, not sure what she’s looking for.
You will notice that the main character’s name here is Fourteen. I have been trialing a few different methods of presenting subjectivity, and this is one. In each chapter of the memoir, the main character is named for their age, providing a subjective context to the story; it tells the reader, ‘this is how I felt at this age and what I remember, not necessarily how I feel now and what I think happened’. This approach is also helpful because it creates a chronology without me having to keep saying ‘when I was __’ and ‘__ years ago’. The story instead is immediate, present and continuous, and the reader isn’t forced to jump between now and then.