One of the writers in the anthology Truth in Nonfiction writes:
We are constantly changing our personal narrative so that it matches our idea of who we are and in what role we see ourselves.
What happens when these ideas change mid-work? I continue to return to this idea as I publish each of my chapters. I’ve already noted that each representation of myself — Fifteen, Seventeen, Seven, etc — is a different being, but I think that each narrator is slightly different too. The darker pieces were written when I was feeling pessimistic, while the floaty, dreamy pieces were written when I was feeling confident and creative. There is a tone that flows from these different moods and circumstances of the narrator, who is only a facet of the author. Each piece is a part of me reconstructing another part of me, seen through multiple selves since. If we were to write that story today, I would write it differently. The personal narrative will always change.
Sitting on a train back to Melbourne, having spent the weekend with my family in Warrnambool. I think the lack of Internet and limits of a busy carriage may have helped me write these 2000 words on my Scrivener page. I’m now on track to reach next week’s deadline, in terms of word count. That said, I think my arguments about my creative work become a little floozy in points – I’ve often forgotten my point so just floated to another one. I suppose that’s what a draft is meant to look like, though. It’s meant to have potential?
I’m beginning to really feel the pressures of next year’s decisions. I’m unsure of my location and direction – to pursue a PhD now, or gain some job experience / moneys first? To move cities or remain here? I’m trying to stop the stress from affecting my work and progress, but I’m worried it will catch up with me soon.
I published Seven online yesterday, and have actually received several positive responses since from people who I didn’t realise were reading Probably a Warm Night! (This is both nice and worrying.) This is good. I have also already had my little breakdown for the week (which may or may not have involved sobbing on my boyfriend’s carpet and calling him a troll for challenging my opinion about something I read online). And then last night I attended my very first life-drawing class with Shannon, which was fun. I’m discovering that doing something I’m not good at (like lifting weights or drawing naked people) can be refreshing. Maybe because I know it won’t result in a grade or in disappointment?
Anyway, I’ve sent a deadline now with Francesca. By Sep 10, I will:
1. Edit all memoir chapters and publish them online, regardless of whether or not I think they’re ready for publication. I have five to go, so this should be manageable.
2. Write exegetical responses to the first eight chapters, and be working on the ninth.
3. Create a table of contents, and think about how to present this work. The final presentation could include small extracts to introduce pieces.
Lots to do!
Very lost with the latest chapter of my exegesis. I’ve decided to return to it when the rest is fleshed out — I’m not quite sure what the point is I’m trying to make in this chapter. It’s mostly devoted to explaining the use of the future tense in ‘A girl called Seventeen’, but I can’t find the words to communicate what I’m trying to say. What my reasoning is, and where the ethics are. I’ve attempted to finish it five times this week, but any references I’ve found don’t really support what I’m trying to argue. I suppose I’m using the writing to work through what I was thinking, but I haven’t quite got there yet. Upon reflection, I think it’s the only chapter I’m struggling with — the chapters that come later I have already laid out, and the arguments are mostly formed. It’s only this chapter that’s just grating at me and slowing me down.
When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.
Bringing my exegesis together this weekend — I’m grouping my research into an intro and nine small chapters, to present woven between my memoir pieces. The quote above, from Margaret Atwood, applies both to my project and where I am now. Right now this process is a confusion, but in a few months’ time I will be able to recount the last weeks of university clearly. They will form, in some way, a story. In the same way, my characters (Fifteen, Seventeen and Ten so far) are written into story that only arrived at this form later. At the time, each experience was ‘a dark roaring, a blindness…a house in a whirlwind’. This quote begins the trailer below — Ed invited me to see this film at MIFF, but I was out of town. Will definitely chase it up.
What I’m discovering through writing my exegesis:
1. There is so much about this topic, both on the fringes and smack-bang in the centre, that I don’t know.
2. I cannot write at home. Hanging out washing immediately becomes a higher priority.
3. Tea helps, even if I forget to drink it.
4. I am too critical of myself, too often.
Dividing my workload into lists has been really helping my research this last fortnight, because even though there are mountains of words ahead, I can see what I have ticked off — what I have achieved, however miniscule. I am still leaving the big tasks until last, which will become a problem soon, but it’s helpful when I have only a little time (twenty minutes on the train home from work, five minutes waiting for a tram) to be able to read an article, or write a blog post, or check out the background story of a work I’ve never heard of before. NOW TO TACKLE THE BIG ONES. WRITE THOUSANDS. READ THOUSANDS. TAME THE CAPS-LOCK KEY. DRINK EARL GREY.
I presented two creative pieces and one exegetical (draft) chapter to my lab class today, with positive feedback to the creative work and helpful, constructive feedback to the exegetical work. I have been worried about the tone and content of the memoir pieces, so hearing that I’m pleasing readers is really building my confidence. While I feared self-indulgence and monotony, others found the stories ‘personal and captivating’.
Feedback for the exegetical chapter was mainly the suggestion that I give more examples and clarification — which is something I’d worried I’d overdone, so I was surprised to hear this. Be prepared then — examples galore are on the way!
I’ve been reading the acknowledgments and commentary around Jo Case’s recent memoir, Boomer & Me. It is a memoir about her son who has Asberger’s. The story is told lovingly and openly and honestly, and invites the reader to relate to the experiences depicted. The response from critics and readers is very positive. But what I haven’t found to be questioned, is the fact that this woman has published a memoir about her young son. Regardless of good intent, is this an ethical issue? What has Case done to evade this ethical question? What boxes has she ticked? How has she overcome the ethical problem of writing about someone else — someone who is a minor, and who is under her care?
I’m feeling creative this week, and less stressed. Yesterday Francesca and I worked out a structure through which to present my project and exegesis, and also the form. We talked about the constant references throughout the project to childhood crafts, the aesthetics of Japanese culture, and also the physicality of writing — I’m thinking about referencing these in the presentation of my work, through making the ‘volume’ (or three) by hand. I also published this memoir piece.
Less stress also achieved by preparing all my food in advance this week and lifting weights at the gym! Distracted from impending deadlines by eating lamb shank soup and watching muscles grow.
It’s the start of week 5, and I’m sitting here with chai tea and half an exegesis draft. Feeling the pressure. I’ve been trying to time my research with the working day — no late-night writing or editing, and no late nights in general. At night I’ve been reading anthology Just Between Us, which claims to ‘tell the truth’ about female friendships. I’d be lying if I told you I bought this simply for research purposes, but I have found it helpful to see how other female authors write about people close to them. Some of the stories are labelled nonfiction, in which friends are labelled by the first letters of their names, or else their names are changed. In the ‘fiction’ pieces there is so much detail and grit and feeling that I wonder how many of these are actually nonfiction too. I particularly love Melina Marchetta’s story (‘fiction’) where events are told through multiple perspectives — through an angry email chain between old friends. Fiction, yet exactly how such a story might be shared in real, web-connected life.
Elsewhere, Marieke Hardy also publishes email correspondence in her memoir, You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead. She writes a story about her memories of an ex-boyfriend who liked prostitutes and coerced her into having threesomes. She calls him ‘brutally and emotionally damaged’; a ‘dirty, over-experienced, stripper-fucking pro’. The story is detailed, both in the moment and in reflection. The last few pages are the email exchange she had with Matty about the story:
‘Potentially diverse rememberings of shared encounters’, Marieke calls her writing.
‘I just may not be the person you remember,’ he responds. ‘That’s a real shame to me. That you don’t know me at all.’
This makes me think about the pieces I’m publishing online. Will people think I don’t know them, because I have written them differently to how they see themselves?