Dani Shapiro writes:
We live in a time in which little is concealed, and that pressure valve — the one that every writer is intimate with — rarely has a chance to fill and fill to the point of explosion. Literary memoir is born of this explosion.
Facebook updates. Tweets. Blog posts. Instagram photos. Always documenting, leaving a digital trail. Granted, I don’t do the best job blogging here on a regular basis, but you’ll find evidence of me somewhere on the web, at any given time. Evolving daily, even if only in a few bytes.
I worry that we’re confusing the small, sorry details — the ones that we post and read every day — for the work of memoir itself.
I’ve written before about how I come and go, how months pass before you’ll hear from me again, how this space becomes stagnant — this site is more a museum of me, my posts like exhibits behind panes of glass. I’ve thought this to be a bad thing, and yet what Shapiro writes makes me think the opposite. Her piece reminds me to not forget the beauty of memoir — the process of letting ideas ripen, of letting life steep.
I’m grateful that I wasn’t a young writer with a blog or a massive following on social media. The years of silence were deepening ones.
Ultimately, I’m young and impatient. I’m still learning how to be a writer. I do wonder what my MFA experience would have been like, for example, had I started now instead of 2005. Sure, we had email then, as well as online forums and social media profiles, and author websites and blogs. At the time, I was still on Diaryland, writing for a handful of friends and family, and sharing freelance clips and a resume on Typepad, and then Blogger. But it — all of this, this life on the screen — wasn’t A Thing just yet.
I wonder how that specific writing experience would be different, not simply because of the wealth of resources on the internet — mixtape archives, Facebook groups of long-lost strangers, more books on the subculture I wrote about — but because of the public spaces that are always open. The readers that are just a Publish button away. And the endless opportunities for release. All of this at a memoirist’s fingertips, even if she is not ready. Even if she tries to be alone.
I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that our feelings — that vast range of fear, joy, grief, sorrow, rage, you name it — are incoherent in the immediacy of the moment. It is only with distance that we are able to turn our powers of observation on ourselves, thus fashioning stories in which we are characters. There is no immediate gratification in this. No great digital crowd is “liking” what we do.
It’s a sweet, succinct piece — read it if you have a minute.
Also, thanks to those who commented on my last post on Boyhood and described your own processes of writing and reflecting on the past. You all provided food for thought.