11.2.11

Book Quote Friday: Making Your Mother Blush

     If we're really thinking about it (let's do that. Yawn, stretch.), I guess one might liken fiction writing to the laying out of the contents of your mind, experience and imagination on the tablecloth, and then obscuring it from sight by applying layers of narrative, characterisation or style. 

     Ideally this adding of layers generalises it, allowing it to transcend the writer’s individual experience, making it palatable and accessible and, all being well, moving it from the realm of the confessional into the realm of art. Some writers layer thickly, others less so. The thinnest veils come inevitably with biography or memoir, when the writer themself is the story and there is no extra narrative or characterisation added as a disguise. This is known as letting it all hang out*.



     But what is a poor writer to do? Humans are pretty gross, dark, seedy, lustful (...), and so, therefore, is a lot of human experience. So, how should one go about writing the things that might, ahem, make your mother blush?

Maurice: A Novel      Well, a good number of writers in the past have rejected the idea of self-revelation entirely. They wait for their parents to die before they write the book they’d always planned, wait for themselves to die (that takes planning; use E. M. Forster as a guide) or never write it at all. Others use a pen name to keep the real truth from their neighbours. Maybe some go into children’s books so they can avoid the hotspots entirely. 

     And some just say it, their name attached, the works. This is a conundrum I struggled with, even pre-writing: it always seemed somehow disrespectful to the people who love you to draw attention to the less respectable aspects of yourself in the media or in print. I remember hearing Lily Allen’s ‘Not Fair’ for the first time and aside from loving it, wondering how she could bear her parents knowing such intimate details of her sex life. I remember saying this to my husband, to which he replied ‘Well, at least they really know her’, which I guess is about the sum of it. I’ve come to the conclusion now that if you really want to connect (only connect; how ironic), you’ve just got to be honest and throw caution to the wind.

     Emma Forrest, whose book I discussed in an earlier post, is incredibly, shockingly, searingly honest about her life, using first person narrative, the tag of ‘a memoir’ and talking quite confidently about things that make me blanch to think of her parents, as today’s quote from ‘Your Voice in my Head’ will hopefully adequately illustrate: 


*By the way, if you are of a particularly sensitive nature, maybe skip down a paragraph or two*


http://www.flickr.com/photos/krisatomic/665520238/in/set-1386641/
    
    

     ‘I have sex with a guy who saves my cat from being stuck up a tree. A Rottweiler chases Perry almost to the top. It’s a sweet Rottweiler, but Perry knows the harm of which it’s capable. ‘Can I try to get him?’ asks the man, a passing friend of my landlord. He shimmies up with ease and gently talks Perry down.

     I go into the house to find a thank-you present. I can’t find anything good so I give him my vagina. He is very, very tender to my cat. He is rough with me. Doesn’t it at least go: he saves my cat from a tree… then we talk about Barack Obama… then we have sex? No, not so genteel a preamble as that. It means less than nothing and within twelve hours it means everything. It is reckless and this means my meds are off. That is where I am again. I was trying to break a spell. It did not work. I said it wrong. It took me back in time instead.’



Your Voice in My Head: A Memoir    At various points in the book she also talks about a strange man forcing himself on her, a lover leaving her bleeding and another nearly asphyxiating her, and a whole lot of other intimate things besides. Stuff that once known is kind of unknownable, and is certainly not your standard fare at the dinner table of a Sunday night (I hope).

     So is this bravery, or is it literary exhibitionism? Personally, I think it's bravery. Having such a strong commitment to the telling of a story, especially at the expense of yourself, is something I find easy to respect whilst the higher purpose remains resonance and a desire to convey the 360° view. To be honest, after reading her book I feel she is a living, breathing person (which she most certainly is), most likely because she has told me her secrets. Perhaps everyone who's read the book feels the same way, and she now has a world full of people who wish her well. I guess that, right there, is the power of letting people see how black it got for you before it got light.
 
     Of course, it would be far too simplistic and na├»ve to suggest that disclosure like this won’t change the way that some people look at you. If your family or community might be offended by any sexual or questionable content then it is understandable that you might not want to take that risk. Once someone knows something about you you can’t make them forget it, and even if whatever-it-is happens to a character or in a setting far removed from yourself, there maybe some who wonder how you came up with those things, or why.

     It’s a judgement call, I guess. Emma Forrest picked one way, you might pick another. For now, I think I might see how far I can push the envelope without freaking myself out, whilst keeping in mind the eternal and horrific truth that your parents most likely already know far more about your (past) lives than you’d like to believe (acknowledge it, then block it out). 

    And also, who are you kidding? Where do you think you got your imagination from anyway? The ‘indiscretions’ you have yet to reveal might pail in significance to what they got up to in their youth. Only difference is, they never felt the urge to write about it. 

     Or is that the perversion we should be worrying about right there?


*henceforth, by me
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