I will be teaching a workshop next month, to eight participants, at my neighborhood bookstore—Garcia Street Books here in Santa Fe.
The price for the six sessions on Sunday afternoons will be the purchase of one book from the well-stocked shelves and tables where I’ve bought almost all my books for the past two decades. I avoid, in nearly every case, ordering though Amazon.
The purpose, of course, is to support this independent bookstore, but it is also to explore the possibilities of writing memoir.
The limits are clear.
We can drown in subjectivity when we write about our own lives. We can fail to set the feelings and events that are so vivid to us in a political, social, intellectual or spiritual context. We can assume an interest in what interests us that may not be there.
None of this is necessarily so.
But for words really to matter, they must illuminate a larger reality than the inevitably small perimeters of our daily lives. We may need to elevate our sights and expand our ambitions by considering the differences between memoir and autobiography.
Autobiography can’t be divorced from history. It demands greater understanding, a wider vision. This is not in any way to demean or diminish the importance of the personal, but to remember, always, that the personal is, inevitably and dramatically, political.
The failed love affair that so tortures and confuses us may be explained by its context—the privilege, or lack of it, of the lovers, the prejudices and fears of that particular moment in history, the problems caused by differences that at first may seem stimulating but end up alienating.
Our difficult child may be the end result of our particular failure of imagination.
Our financial difficulties may reflect our faith in the value of work that this culture does not value.
Memoir may cover a shorter period of time, may focus on a singular event, may have a smaller cast of characters. To sustain early idealism may demand some unconventional choices.
And then there is humor.
We do tend to become intensely serious when we write about ourselves.
I plan to include examples of contemporary essays that broaden our definition: essays centering on a sport, for example, like one from a recent The New Yorker called “Holding The T: My Life in Squash,” or on cooking—I have yet to find this one, but there are plenty of examples—or on funerals: what to wear, how to look, what to say.
We will read and discuss, we will read and listen, and perhaps at the end of the six weeks, a ray of light will cross our computer pages, and we will know that we are doing what we were placed here to do: “For this I came.”
For registration and additional information, please visit the event page.