Thursday, April 4, 2013

writing selves

I've been thinking a lot lately (ha! I start a lot of posts that way, don't I? But I *DO* have a busy, busy brain, so I guess it's apropos) about this business of life writing. Partially because it seems that I do it. And also because it seems to be what I study as well. So - life and writing and life writing on the brain.

When I was taking what has been, thus far, my favourite grad school course to date, on Canadian life writing - I had the good, great, awesome fortune to be introduced to a Quebec artist/cartoonist/serial memoirist Julie Doucet.  We read one of her many, many comic book/graphic art memoirs, My New York Diary, which documents a short period of her life in entrancing and uncomfortable detail. It is, in a word, sublime. She has many others - like MANY - she was bloody awesomely prolific (I use the past tense here not because she is dead - she is most certainly not - but because she has since switched  mediums and now produced autobiographical art). Anyhow - I mention Doucet because in the course of studying her, I came across an interview in which she said that autobiographical practice, for her, was like a disease. She wasn't capable of *not* doing it. And this struck a bit o' a chord with me. Now to be clear, I'm not not NOT saying I'm a Julie Doucet.  I don't have even an iota of her complete and utter shazaam!  I can't imagine anyone publishing anything that gets written down here - but I do also get that feeling about my sometimes inexorable need to write it all down.

I have to write. I don't know why. I just do. (Maybe I'm a narcissistic exhibitionist. Maybe it's just a big part of how I learn myself. Maybe I'm just an autobiographer at heart, if that is, in fact, what this business is). But I have to write something resembling a self of mine. A self of mine some of the time anyways. But it isn't all of myself or more properly, my selves. It's a version, one that changes with impulse, feeling(s), circumstance, time and place; a flick of a keyboard key or two. Sometimes I read back old posts and wonder what the fracking hell I was thinking. But I know that I was there at the time. It was me, or a reasonable facsimile of a sort of me, a version in that moment. In that way, as uncomfortable or awkward or even embarrassing as this writing business is, it's nice to have a record or a way to map back where I've been in a semi-tangible way.  And I like having a roadmap, even if it is in reverse (I'm utter shite at reading regular roadmaps anyways).

A friend of mine told me today, while we were out for a long overdue sushi date, that she thought I was brave for writing the things I do.  It was a lovely thing to say. But I wonder if that's what this is? Is it bravery? Is it silliness? Self-indulgence? Or maybe brave and silly self-indulgence?  Or maybe, all writing and/or writers is/are slightly brave and silly and self-indulgent.  She, my friend is a fiction writer. I can't write fiction. I've tried. And failed. Multiple times.  The stuff of my creative juices, as it were, comes straight from the stuff of my life and try as I might, I cannot make it otherwise.

I'm reading Carol Shields for a class right now. A lot of Carol Shields.  A schwack of it, in fact.  And though she isn't my favourite, (I find her emotionally distant or removed from her writing somehow, though much of her prose is lovely. It's just not a way of looking at the world that I process particularly well).  At any rate, one of her character descriptions (a teensy weensy part of a rather long read) in her book Unless (2002) really resonated for me: "She always claimed she had little imagination, that she wrote out of the material of her own life, but that she was forever on the lookout for what she called putty. By this she meant the arbitrary, the odd, the ordinary, the mucilage of daily life that cements our genuine moments of being" (95).  And I think that might be it, in a nutshell.

I may lack imagination - but hot damn, I have a whole lot of putty - and apparently, putty is what really makes me tick...

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