where the writers are
Memoir: Don't be confused, it's NOT YOU telling your story
VONA/Voices Workshop

The MORE cover bragged, the most revealing interview yet--Sharon Stone. In the highlight, Sharon says something like, you never really know an actor, it's always just a persona. Then she went onto cartoon herself in the interview as a tramp with brains, but was wise enough to mention divorce, motherhood and death, so that we would fee like it was the most revealing interview yet. 

This little bathroom moment feed current foci in my life. I am reading manuscripts for the memoir workshop at VONA, starting next week--stories of transformation, healing, homecooking--they are sophisticated and exciting. So as I go through my day, keeping one or two of them in mind, I conjure what I am going to share with the writers in the class. The lessons are everywhere.

I watched an entire episode of So You Think You Could Dance while  printing and collating the manuscripts. I watched young dancers throw their bodies through the air, then fall to the ground, jerky, smooth, constant motion, tableau. Strong, powerful and emotional. The dance critiques came back to the same theme most of the night: fill in the performance between the steps. Don't just dance the steps, create the story. This is a memoirst issue: writers rush to the "point" of their story without building the life that it happens to. Sometimes they rush so fast they tell you how to feel before it actually happens. "I  learned to hate Omaha when the snow fell that year." You are a writer; you are a dancer: 1. There's no place for topic sentences in memoir. 2. Don't just tell the story, create the life. (I never watch the results--too heartbreaking, by the way.)

The struggle, I was telling a colleague the other day as we spoke about tackling all the issues we could in one workshop week, is to move the writers off other instincts that come when telling a memoir. Journal--then this happen and I felt, i remember, we would (would is a particular peeve, because things happen--We would eat dinner together--did you or didn't you?) The journal voice is mushy, no narrator, the character's voice processing the story. No place for me in this structure.  The other extreme is essay--this voice directs the reader how to hear and feel about the life that is being told. It has modulation and adult authority. Not much fun.

Enter Sharon Stone (she is brainy by the way, just not in this interview).  She reminds the journalist that public people are functioning in fractures- you see this part of myself or this version of myself, just not all of me. Why should you? What's useful about knowing that a persona is telling you story is information that is not time-real to the experience can be presented, fill in the life between the steps.

In memoir, that is the narrator and a lot of writers have pointed out the narrator/ character (and author) split and yet it seems to be the hardest thing to communicate to someone pushing the emotion along with the narration. The two voices are so melded--one is in charge of the angle of discovery, the other,  living the life. I have tried a myriad of explanations: Your character is on the stage, your narrator built the stage. Your narrator tells the story; your character lives the story (and none of these people are you).

Narrator: The light flickered strobing the room, creating shapes out of faces, unworldly.

Character: I rubbed my eyes; I wasn't going to cry. Not this time.

See how vague it is? But also instinctual. Tell the story of your first airplane ride. You picture the plane, who was seated beside you, the feeling in your stomach, the voice of the attendant, the view outside the little window, the way you held onto your bag, the announcements, the scent of the air, the leg shaking uncontrollably, the frost on the plastic glass of Coke  (etc). By nature, we create a picture and go into the storytelling persona. 

I am gathering all these thoughts together because in three days, I need to sit with the authority of the dance critiques and tell people about their steps, their journey and their lives. What narrator, what persona, what life?  I have organized my enlightening in-class writings, and have printed my examples. Most of the time, I imagine they will figure all of it out for themselves. Maybe. In the meantime, I'll keep surveying my world for the lessons that are out there. Where should I go next? Maybe I need to rewatch Legally Blonde.