Being truthful, having a voice that can be trusted - tried and true advice for the writer. But it don't come easy, as they say.
What I call my more-than-memoir doesn't come easy right now. You break open old stories, old narratives, and find them still laden with the intensity of the time in which they were composed. You realize why some of these 'truths' get buried in some deep dark place, those places where we try to make the pain, the fear, the embarrassment inaccessible.
Now you have to access them - in order to be truthful.
And yet you still play around with all that truth, because not all truth should be told to the world. One gets tired of some of that confessional stuff that can be rather indulgent or mean (or sometimes simply made up) that so often accounts for memoir these days.We are a self-indulgent culture in the extreme, and not all stories merit that space on our shelves or in our e-readers or in our psyches.
There needs to be truth, or a lens that gives a view that perhaps we didn't have before. Memoir ought to shed a little light on our human condition, or predicament. It ought to help us open some spaces inside ourselves to see life with a little more wisdom and understanding, perhaps a bit of forgiveness and some necessary letting go.
I have dabbled in poetry, too. Odd thing, really very strange, is that some of the dabbling is going to get published. I don't know what in the world made me ever consider sending poems to an actual poetry journal here, but I did, and then again, and will have three poems published in the fall, either in the print or online editions of Verse Wisconsin.
This terrified me at first. I have written poems to help me become a better prose writer. It never occurred to me that any of them would be, you know, worthy. And if two or three of them are, does that make me a poet? And what happens then?
But I feel the same way about the poems - about truth, and about the voice.
We are living in hard times. So much is unraveling all around us as this culture begins to collapse of its own hubris, arrogance, and extreme non-sustainability. This morning, a disgruntled man who had just argued with his girlfriend went off to the Sikh Temple just down the road from me a few miles and opened fire during their Sunday celebrations. Six dead, plus the shooter, and three still in critical condition, at least one apparently in very fragile condition tonight. [next day edit - he did break up with his girlfriend, but now we know the really scary fact, that he was leader of a neo-nazi rock band and been known to have these connections for more then a decade].
Another white male picks up a gun, or in Timothy McVeighs case a whole lot of explosives, and vents his anger on people of other cultures, people who are 'other.'
One witness is reported to have said he had a 9/11 tattoo.
These outbursts of violence did not come out of nowhere. They have emerged from a collapsing culture that is also heavily armed.
What does the writer do in a moment like this? It makes me feel an incredible urgency to get this project done, to find a publisher, to get it out into the world. But beyond this project, what is the mission of the writer who wants to tell the truth? What kind of stories do we write? What kind of poems? How important do we feel it is to reflect this culture back to itself - honestly, forthrightly, creating disturbances as we go?
I feel great disquiet and dis-ease tonight. I will go off now to join my brother at his engineering school to watch the drama of the Mars landing on NASA TV. And I will be struck once more by the tremendous contradictions within the human being - from mass killings to this drive to explore and know our universe. How do we contain all that within us and not break apart?
And then sometimes we break apart. And we need to write about that, too.