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.

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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.

The headspace of Week 6.

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!

Image

 

‘Potentially diverse rememberings of shared encounters.’

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 Uswhich 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?

Me, but not me.

For Semester Two I’ve begun using this blog as more of a research diary; a place to talk about how I’m feeling about research as well as the research itself. I’m feeling positive this week — I wrote 1200 words a day in the last two days, 1000 of which are somewhat useful. I’ve been writing about the process of writing and publishing ‘A Girl called Fifteen.’, and decisions I made while editing the material. The questions I am exploring include:

‘ Publishing writing about living people has implications; I acknowledge the subjectivity of my writing, but will they?’ 

‘Regardless of their truthfulness, what makes these events and these private histories my stories to tell?’ 

‘As a child I was obsessive about dates of when things happened, but over the years this need has diminished and I remember that time simultaneously as a series of flashbacks and as a dreamy flow of walks to school, leftovers and flights to my bedroom. How could this sporadic, non-linear childhood be written into story?’

I’ve been reading Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being and Marina Warner’s introduction to Moments of Truth (edited by Lorna Sage). The two ideas that really resonate with me are:

1. Woolf’s theories about ‘non-being’ — the ‘silent and invisible’ parts of one’s own experience, which one forgets because they are parts of a routine we have learned. 

2. ‘new beings made of words’ (Marina Warner) I like this phrase: new beings made of words. Each writer in the collection Moments of Truth doesn’t simply tell their story, but finds her story in the writing. Her self on the page grows in words rather than in blood and muscle and bone. In the same way, my character Fifteen became a ‘new being made of words’. This is me, but this is not me. 

Editing memoirs.

I’ve spent most of my time in the lab today editing memoir pieces for Lip Magazine. Several writers have sent me their pitches and drafts and it’s my job to offer structural suggestions and comments on their language used. By the end of the process of editing, the pieces are of publishable quality — whatever that means. 

Working on these memoir pieces today — written by other people, about their childhoods, experiences and trauma — has led me to think about the extent to which we can edit someone’s work. There might be a piece (and this is an example I’ve made up) about grieving the death of a parent, where the details are listed vaguely and in a similar way to other stories of family deaths. But how can I ask a writer to tell their story a different way? This is how they recall it — who am I to try to change their story? What could be the effects of me suggesting something as simple as ‘Can you expand this paragraph?’ when the subject content is so close to home? Perhaps the day really was a ‘blur’. Maybe it really did ‘feel like a dream’. Who am I to tell someone to cut what some readers might call ‘cliches’? 

I’m currently editing my own work for publication too. My memoir needs structural changes and many sentences make me cringe. That said, I’m hesitant to hand out the manuscript to others to read, as the content is still so raw. I’m not ready to be told that how I felt in certain scenes was a cliched way to feel, or that what I did wasn’t a believable response. Regardless of the truth-aspect, I think writing memoir uses a different part of the brain to writing fiction. 

A girl called Fourteen.

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.