Two weeks until deadline.

This blog has been quiet in the past few weeks — mainly because I decided to move my research journal offline, into a diary. I felt I was holding back too much on how I felt about the writing and the reading and the general rhythms of my Honours research. So yes, these reflections are now hidden in a handwritten research diary.

The exciting news is that I presented a research paper at Critical Animals in Newcastle on the weekend. The panel was titled “Authorial Ethics” and it was exciting to see the different ways we interpret the author and the concept of ethics. One of my fellow presenters spoke about the author’s identity — if there is one — in a world where art depicts life. In other words, what is the author but a filter for all of their experiences? The other presenter on the panel (also from RMIT) talked about the conceit of documentary making and auto-ethnography — basically, what it means to construct the self on film. I spoke mainly about the ethics of borrowing other people’s stories, and representing family members as characters on the page. Being part of the panel was an insightful experience, and I look forward to presenting again soon.

Fortunately, I have just been accepted to speak at RMIT’s Placing Nonfiction Symposium in December. The paper I will present here will be about Virginia Woolf’s moments of non-being, from her memoir collection, Moments of Being. Here is my official proposal, for a better idea:

What are the limits of nonfiction? Where and how is “nonfiction” – a concept founded upon a negation – placed, and what is at stake?

“Every day includes more non-being than being,” Virginia Wolff writes. In her memoirs of childhood, this non-being is “the invisible and silent part” of her life. The moments that are remembered simply through sensation, as the moments that passed between the memorable, “life-changing” events. In my research, I am exploring how to write about these moments of non-being through memoir. I have reconstructed an array of scenes from my childhood home. These scenes depict the non-being of drinking tea, fluffing up cushions, practising scales on the family piano. These were everyday rituals that I had never reflected upon before, and I don’t quite recall the details. Perhaps these scenes frolic between non-fiction and imagination, however, excluding these non-events from my memoir would leave readers with the risk of a causal narrative, a story that ignores the complex rhythms of both everyday life and writing from memory.

My entire Honours project is due two weeks from tomorrow, with exegesis alongside. It resembles a book now, complete with chapters, page numbers and white space. I have sent around a PDF of the final draft for new eyes to read (sister, housemate, etc), and I ran into an writerly friend yesterday who offered to take a look. I am unsure about how much is left to do — the arguments are there, the references are perfect, but having read the whole thing through so many times, I can no longer find new information. There is so much I have learned this year that has not made the final cut of probably a warm night. My nonfiction work was inspired by David Shields, but in this final draft he is only mentioned twice in passing. My research was also inspired by an earthquake, but the resulting memoir is mainly about me. I am waiting to hear the thoughts of the few readers who are taking a look at it — but at the moment I worry I have edited my writing down to something unexceptional. That probably means the work is reaching its final edit, when I can completely understand all of my ideas and therefore no longer find them exciting.

Mood Indigo (film)

And I headed to Nova again yesterday to see another film — Mood Indigo. This is a French film, starring Audrey Tautou and one of the main actors from The Intouchables, and I thought the plot sounded quite wacky and poetic and an escape from all of the nonfiction works I had been reading/watching.

Mood Indigo begins with this quote, from the author on whose novel the film is based:

This story is completely true, for I imagined it from beginning to end. (Boris Vian, Froth on the Daydream)

My initial reaction to the film’s opening scenes was one of disbelief. This couldn’t actually happen, I thought. Not in real life. Clearly I was still climbing out of my nonfiction bucket. Once I had processed that this, believe it or not, was actually a made-up story, I really did enjoy the artsy, poetic nature of the film, with its obvious stabs at Sartre and constant, jarring computer animation throughout.

Ultimately, the wacky, not-quite-realist film made me once again consider the “truthiness” of fiction. In the film (and presumably the novel on which it was based) the emotions of characters are translated to visuals in a way that is impossible in nonfiction. In nonfiction, a doorbell can’t scuttle along the wall to signify loneliness. Two kinds of weather can’t fall either side of a table to show character’s true feelings. We can imply it, but we can’t (or shouldn’t) create unbelievable details to better emphasise a mood or a point. In this instance, nonfiction is harder.

One-week hiatus.

I took a week’s hiatus from my blog. The main reason for this is that I sent myself a very big deadline for yesterday — to write the eight middle chapters of my exegesis. Our full draft isn’t due until next Friday, but I wanted to set myself this extra deadline so I get some sleep next Thursday night. Also, I’ve gathered (through trying to write about my creative work) that I only discover what I’m trying to say through writing about it — so now I can use extra editing time to sharpen those points and link them into a stronger argument. I met today with Francesca, and we talked about what will need to go into my introduction and conclusion to frame the chapters. What is really coming out in my work are different ideas about time — momentum and rhythms of time, the passing of years and the loss of time. I’ve titled each of my exegetical chapters to begin with ‘when…’ because these all talk about time and refer to characters set in different times. Each ‘when’ refers to a different period.

My nine creative chapters have all been published here. The publication of the final three was anticlimactic — a steady, gentle flow of readers, according to my stats page. A minor critique from Tom, who is offended that he only appears in one piece and is asleep in said piece. A blog follow from someone in Oman, too late. There will be one more piece to the memoir, a small one, which I am still composing. I haven’t yet decided if I will publish it online too.

On not publishing memoirs.

Today I read this excerpt from Emily DePrang on her decision not to publish a memoir she’d written, even after being offered a contract. I found it here on the Brevity blog.

What stopped me was that a memoir’s quality correlates to its honesty, and my book deal would be built on a kind of lie. I would only be pretending to be at peace with my past and ready to share its lessons with the world. I’d only be acting like I thought it was okay to dish my ex’s dirt. I’d seem brave, but it would be kamikaze courage, not an earned, owned courage, not one that endures. It occurred to me that writing a memoir should be like posing nude in front of an art class for three hours, not like flashing a camera after a few tequila shots.

Here‘s another paper about not writing a memoir about someone intimate to the writer. Willa McDonald concludes that there are decisions to be made — risks to be considered. Where do responsibilities lie?

In my own work, I wonder where my responsibilities lie?

After a weekend at home.

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.

A little lost.

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.

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.