and then having a think…
It’s always been my intention to write my own pieces of memoir as I teach. I think it’s important to be practicing the craft you are asking others to learn. So sometimes, when I am walking in the mornings, I start writing in my head…
In my teens I lived in a provincial town in Essex, grew my legs long and went to the youth club by the playing fields. I rolled over the waist of my school skirt in an attempt to fashion my individuality from its uniform, knee length hideousness. If I could get away with it I would wear my netball skirt. My nan once ran after me to tell me I’d forgotten to put a skirt on. An ordinary life, it may even have looked privileged on the outside.
And I was told by one of the therapists who parented me into an overdue adulthood during my thirties that my mother used the techniques of a torturer to keep me in line.
Now, what’s the next step for this piece? Which is the road I want to travel? Will I ever reveal the torture-techniques? I think I must. If you have a gun in the first paragraph, it has to go off by the end (reportedly, Chekov). But I don’t want to, not now, and for good reason.
I am pausing to have a think here because I want an approach that’s best for both the writer and the writing. I don’t want to to get lost in childhood horrors as I write. Writing asks for something more. Something bigger. I need to have worked things through in order to write them effectively for someone else to read.
In a writing class things often come up that we weren’t expecting. It probably wouldn’t be that stimulating if they didn’t. But I tell students early on why memoir writing cannot be therapy. Under the guidance of a therapist it can be, or with a self-help group who can witness what you write there is useful work to be done in writing for therapeutic purposes. But we don’t have a therapist in my group. It’s not what I do.
My job is to guide you through the writing, help you get better at saying what you want to, help you shape and express yourself fully for an audience, which can be small, or large. Your choice.