Saturday, September 14, 2013

Week 4: childhood memoir issues

'Mem-WAH,' emphasis on the second syllable, is how you pronounce this puppy. No 'mem-o-ir.'

(My wife disagrees, not for the first time ever in our 565 years of marriage. She says it should be MEM-wah, emphasis on the first syllable. Hmppph! Just be thankful it's an online course and you're not going to have to say it aloud in class and pick between my wife and me.) (The Merriam-Webster Pronouncing Dictionary agrees with...well, you can listen for yourself:

Now a definition I just lifted from wikipedia: ""Gore Vidal, in his own memoir Palimpsest, gave a personal definition: "a memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked." It is more about what can be gleaned from a section of one's life than about the outcome of the life as a whole.""

So, it's about memories and if you've taken ENG 162, you already know that there are no polygraphs at EMCC, that sometimes the truth can best be found in a fib, and that good nonfiction can be improved with fictional techniques.

Memory is notoriously unreliable but it's all we've got to go with, so--

I've been thinking about what to write for a sample childhood memoir.

There seems to be a class of memories that aren't really direct memories but are stories I remember being told. I certainly don't remember running out into the snowstorm with only a shirt on and being brought back by a motorist outraged by my mother's irresponsibility to her toddler. I certainly don't remember telling the motorist that I was running away to the "little o'phans' home." What I remember is my mother telling this story--often.

Personally I'd rather stick with something that's not second-hand, as first-hand has a likelier probability of being fresh and juicy.

Then there are thematic memories but ones that don't amount to a particular specific story. Can I do a memoir about how the blueberries and corn I'm eating now in August (8/14/10) remind me of my mother's attitudes toward fresh food, toward farmer's markets, toward the ethnicity of the farmers in the region where I grew up? I could; I certainly have considered that. But there's no single story, so it would be a series of (former ENG 162 students panic-time!) vignettes.

Finally there are complete stories I actually directly remember. For some reason I'm convinced that's the gold standard for memoirists, but I could easily be wrong. In my case, I have very few of these available before I was ten or eleven. I keep coming back to--not a single story exactly, but more than a series of thematic memories--I keep coming back to beating up my brother on our weekly walks home from the Saturday movie matinees. That idea has legs, because it ties in with stuff about my cousin, who was a wonderful big brother to me, and about bullying, which I know about as both victim and in my brother's case, perpertrator.

Eventually, I will have a sample childhood memoir for you, based on memory and in my own voice. I think I'm going to write about an evil teacher I had....

1 comment:

  1. Tell us how to pronounce "chipolte" and "nucular/nuclear," hehehe...