Tuesday, April 24, 2012

notes on memoir, and how to relax and receive

I'd never been to the LA Times Festival of Books, but I should have known to plan ahead, and that free might not mean completely without cost. When I decided at 10:30am on Saturday morning that I did, indeed, want to go and started to plot my adventure, I realized (a) the panels I was most interested in were happening at that very moment and (b) the other panels that intrigued me had "sold out." The event was free, but they still distributed tickets for some parts of the festival, including panels.

I tried to not get too caught up in these hopefully minor oversights. My friend, who is always up for an adventure and good at keeping her expectations open, said she would join me. This kind of company always helps ease the anxiety of a chronic planner like me. So off we went. We rode public transportation, which meant a walk, a metro ride, then a shuttle with the many other book- and story-lovers to USC's campus. (Seeing this mix of people: young, old, accompanied and alone, all different colors and styles was one of the highlights for me.) When we arrived, we grabbed a map and made a plan: we would go to a memoir panel, if only because I recognized the name of one author. Ten minutes later at the building where the panel would be held, two teens with volunteer t-shirts answered our question with clueless looks, then a kind security guard told us we really should have gotten tickets for the panel back at the entrance, but that we could wait to see if there were extra seats. I really thought we'd blown it by then, but remember, I'd decided to be open and go with the flow. So we waited. And happily, we got in.

And then they were good. These authors, they were all really interesting and thoughtful and clearly very talented. Memoir authors tend to get a bad rap. Most think anyone who would write a whole book about themselves must be deliriously self-absorbed, but these authors were funny and gracious and full of perspective.

I took a few notes that are still in that "rocks jumbling around my head as if in a rock tumbler" phase, clinging and clacking against each other, hopefully forming something of substance soon. But for now, my notes:
  • Reason to write memoir instead of fictionalizing one's story: because real life can be way more symbolic than fiction is allowed to be
  • memoir as illumination and connection; being honest helps people recognize themselves in your story
  • be specific to get to the universal
  • "how do I bear this suffering?" is a universal question
  • infusing a range of emotion (not just about voice per se, but about striking the right emotion); importance of feeling
  • read Be Thou the Voice, article by Dinah Lenney
 (And for anyone interested, the authors we heard were Cheryl Strayed, Charles Shaw, Emma Forrest, and Dinah Lenney. I'm most excited to read Ms. Strayed's book, Wild.)

After the panel, we wandered over to poetry stage where listeners lounged in the grass, shoes off, some reclined and looking at the sky or with eyes closed. The poet read her work in that overly-affected drawl that I imagine high-on-something spoken word artists from the 60's used. It all felt very hippie to me and though the poetry wasn't exactly my taste, sitting in the grass with my shoes off, feeling the warm sun on my exposed legs and the prickly grass on the bottom of my feet fit perfectly into my plan for the day: relax and receive. And that's exactly what we did.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you went! I was looking at the schedule online and wondering if I should tell you about it, but it was kind of late notice and I didn't want it to be stressful news. : )

    I recently read Garlic and Sapphires, a memoir by former NY Times food critic Ruth Reichl. Really enjoyed it. She had to wear disguises to do her job and just comes across as a decent human being trying to do a good job in a high-pressure, prestigious position.

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