Sunday, April 10, 2011

Memoir--We All Do It

In Lee Gutkind’s book, “Keep It Real,” he discusses the many aspects of creative non-fiction. (For those who don’t know, Lee Gutkind is the founder and editor of Creative Non-Fiction, the journal.) In one section he talks about The Memoir Craze.
The section isn’t long as descriptions go, but it has everything one needs to consider when thinking of writing any piece of memoir. Of course, the reason for that is because he’s so thoroughly covered the other aspects of the technical considerations of writing non-fiction—creative or otherwise.
One of the best, and for me most telling paragraphs, says this of memoir…
“When you look at our tendency these days to interface with technology rather than one another, perhaps the surprise is not that memoirs are flourishing but that anyone questions the trend. Neuropsychologists are discovering that the impulse for story is likely hard-wired into our brains. The less we talk to one another, the more our personal  narratives—our confessions, our dark sides, our recitations of the things we do in secret—with seek other ways to emerge, finding voice in the genre of memory.”
Reading this paragraph begs any storyteller to delve back into personal memory just to prove the assumption of brain hard-wiring as it pertains to them. The question arises as to how long the writer has personally lived inside a storyline that pleads to be told to someone else. The storyteller also learns that the affliction of ever-present swirling plot ideas and character profiles is something to be endured whether they make it to print or not.
For bloggers, professional or not, the memoir is a mainstay of posting something for whoever drops by to read it. Trolling for new opportunities to learn about a person nets the surfer a load of disparate choices.
When people socialize face-to-face, they discuss the day’s events, philosophy, experiences, etc. Much of that interaction is pure memoir. Humans emphasize their political views by sharing memories. They use personal experience to declare their life’s philosophies and attitudes. All of a personal’s experiential history gets filtered in micro-seconds for the perfect—or not-so perfect—example to wedge into conversation.
If you listen to children when they’re “talking things over,” they often refer back to past experience to make their points. Do they learn that technique by modeling their parents, or do they come by it naturally? According to Gutkind’s book, experts believe it’s a natural tendency.
The cliché example of the memoir storyteller involves the hunter/fisherman. Fishermen gathered around any stationary object, such as dining table or campfire, use memoir use discourse for opinion pieces on everything from travel recommendations and “factual” reporting of fish population conditions to forecasting conditions five years hence.
Hunters talk about game population conditions, both physiological and habitat, and go on to a complete consumer report on ammunition and arms power. The gamut of subject matter also includes family related information about preparations to marital relations. Personal history and future aspirations are all brought out and aired before the council of game experts gathered for the purpose.
Let’s face it. Humans can’t go one day without referring to one memory or another. We use time-line reference for everything from clock time to calendar time. We rear our children based on memory, work according to past experiences with the activity and expectations, and even worship as we’ve learned to do so.
The very act of learning requires that memory be used each and every minute of the day. Otherwise, each moment would be as fresh and new as the one that came before it. We wouldn’t be able to learn at all.
What astounds me is that it’s taken neuropsychologists so long to come to their conclusion. Every writer knows that without memory there is no story. The writer, whether working in non-fiction or fiction, recognizes the invaluable benefit of memory and memoir to the written word.
It’s not every day that experts validate the truth of what writers take for granted. And Gutkind was gracious enough to put that nugget of official validation out into the world for us all to see. For that, and ever so much more, I applaud him.
Anyone who would like to know what other gems of insight Lee sprinkles into literature should drop by his website: You’ll find more than you thought possible in that compact website. Creative Non-Fiction journal is also a must for the non-fiction specialist or dabbler.
On that note, I’ll leave you for today. Have a great week, whatever your activity.
Until later,

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