Tag Archives: memoir

“What We Have In Common Are The Words At Our Backs”

My Great Grandparents

My Great Grandparents

I wonder how my grandmothers took their tea.

I wonder what women influenced them to have strength.  I actually wondered this one today when I put a temporary tattoo on my mother’s wrist.  It was a blue bird with a banner that said “strength” in bold black letters.  There was a station at my nephew’s birthday party.

I wonder if my great-grandmothers had cold feet and an affinity for tall, or bulldog-like men.

My Aunt June

My Aunt June

I wonder what my great, great, great, great grandmother did with the house and the eight out illiterate members of this house when my grandfather was shot in the arm and died during the Civil War.  I have great ideas that she didn’t just shrivel up and set all her worries into a far off gaze while resting her chin in her palm and her elbow on some window mount.  My great, great, great, great grandmother may have worn aprons, but a later census shows she kept the house running, possibly with or without a wealthy gentlemen heir.  I can’t know because these stories have been lost in the clouds of perfume and cigarette smoke that my grandmother’s wafted out.

All I have for those later women in my family tree are census records and collected data of years of birth, years of death and household numbers.  I do have a lot of heirlooms from my grandmothers, but beyond that it’s black and white photos and the last whispers of “talk-story” that my Aunt June still has left.

The Woman Warrior | Memoirs Of A Girlhood Among Ghosts @ Book Critics

This gets me to the pinnacle of my jealousy over Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir The Woman Warrior | Memoirs Of A Girlhood Among Ghosts.  I don’t know if it’s the Chinese culture, or just this woman, but her writing was insane, literally and her cultural stories and history were both whimsical and brilliant.  I feel like I would know her sitting at a dinner table after reading this collection of narratives about what it means to be a woman, what it means to be Asian-American and what it means to know your own voice based on the voices that you’ve come from.

Fa Mu Lan Woman Warrior @ Chinese Swords (.net)

I’m a bigot in the sense that I don’t believe we’re ever just who we make ourselves, and I will NEVER believe that.  There will be no change of opinion.  We’re an odd conglomeration of the histories kneaded into our hometowns, the deep-seeded truths of how our parents or guardians were raised, even if we go against those truths, our family trees, and the people we encounter in this lifetime (if not other lifetimes that we may have lived).

Off topic branch:  I believe in old souls, not necessarily reincarnation, but I meet people sometimes and they’re my people.  I’ve known them before.  Grey’s Anatomy said it best, “You’re my person.”  One of my closest friends at school is a 60+ year old woman who owns a horse farm and hunted foxes when she was younger.  We should be the least likely people to form close bonds (I’m deathly afraid of horses and I can shoot a gun, but definitely not hunt anything) and yet I love her and I’ve known her forever.  The same goes with my best friend, Seth, who couldn’t break up with me if he tried, and my boyfriend right now who has the thigh muscles of a Greek champion so we must have been sea-faring lovers.  There are ancient traditions of my history with these people, but I can’t tell you what they are because I have very little knowledge of my own family history in order to puzzle these things together. It’s not a miracle of science, just a miracle of miracles and being the Catholic (with a few twists) girl that I am, I have to believe that God purposely put each of these people in my life because they make me comfortable and they’re my partners through the journey.

Orchid for “Brave Orchid” @ Envy GFX

I bet Marie Hong Kinsgston would know all the answers to my questions about this because she has the rich stories of her kin to explain life’s trials, life’s expectations and life’s roads.  I could read four more books on her history without batting an eye, that’s how inspiring this work of literature was.   She has the major story of three women that determine what she believes it is to be a woman with an Asian-American background.  There’s the story of a woman fighter (who I think is the inspiration behind Mulan) and Kingston takes the soul of this fighter on within herself.  Then there’s the history of her Aunt and Mother who in my eyes belong to one single history of womanhood.  Her mother is a doctor in Asia only to “escape” to America and run a laundry mat. Her Aunt is not brought to America until late in her own life because her husband never sent for her, and she is over saturated.

Maxine Hong Kingston @ UCLA International

Then, there’s the history of Kingston which I believe is a weaving of the last three histories and the idea of “talk-story” which is this idea that women in the family pass on … well everything.  Any knowledge of her mother’s past, of Asia, of heroic tales from Asia, comes from the elder women in Kingston’s life and whatever they determine the girl’s should know, they know.  It’s an odd coming of age because when this memoir was written (and probably still although publicly dormant), it wasn’t bountiful to have a girl and girls were assumed to be mostly worthless as far as aging parents were concerned.  At one point, Kingston’s Mother, Brave Orchid, talks about cutting her daughter’s talk so that she can “talk story” which is probably my favorite part of this story because she literally raised a daughter who “talked-story” enough to write an award winning and eye opening memoir.  I really liked Brave Orchid because I think she knew how to live the dichotomy without being found out, she managed to make a living as a medical doctor but still follow the deeply embedded codes restricted to women within in Asia.  I think, even though she comes off abrasive in the book, she influenced her daughters to do the same in their own ways and through their own narratives.  I definitely can appreciate a strong women who must live inside boundaries, but has discovered ways to approach and climb the fence.

“Perhaps women were once so dangerous that they had to have their feet bound” (23). 

Bound Feet @ Danwei.org

Last thing, my favorite story in Sandra Cisneros’s Woman Hollering At The Creek is “Salvador, Late Or Early.”  I always start my students off with this reading at the beginning of the semester and then I have them do a fill in the blank to learn how much they know about figurative language and to see what they reveal about themselves based on what they say in the blanks.  Some students take this very seriously, some students joke about it, and some students just plain hurt me with their raw descriptions of themselves and who cares about them most (or least, unfortunately). In this story, Salvador’s brother drops his cigar box of crayons and I always told my students that that was because he was so poor that he had to hold his crayons in a cigar box.  However, I was reading Woman Warrior and found this quote, “After American school we picked up our cigar boxes, in which we had arranged books, brushes, and an inkbox neatly, and when to Chinese school from 5:00 to 7:30″ (194).   I love when cultural things blow my mind a little.  I originally thought that this was a hispanic way of carrying school supplies, but obviously I was wrong.  This is just a little bit of proof that we’re constantly being educated by literature.  It doesn’t matter what country, what language, or what source, books can teach about our world in big or small ways, we just have to want to read between the lines.


“Man Didn’t Kill Poetry. Men With Mustaches Killed Poetry.”

Art Journal @ Apollo-Cabin (Tumblr)

I can’t help but think that all the girls in this story are somewhere filled with regret like a claw-foot tub and they each own an entire DNA strand of fractured creative genes.  Each one a little bit broken and a little bit lost, a road trip gone bad.   Girls that act broken all of the time from a childhood trauma, or a high school breakup.  You know all those essays that discuss the problems of the world with the huge and completely inadequate title of “daddy issues.”  This is a whole different conversation about the book that I need to obviously have with Slash Coleman.

I feel like Slash Coleman is the perfect guy for every single one of my Beyonce-style, single lady friends.  Ladies….

Screen shot 2013-07-13 at 2.04.29 PM

I’m secretly hoping he’s going to laugh out loud at this since I just read his heartbreak of a memoir and feel like he’s lived next door to me for the entirety of my young adult girlhood.  He’s like that guy that your mom always hears rumors about in the neighborhood and she comes home saying, “Oh Cass, did you hear about Mrs. Coleman’s son, he’s been out on a compound, he’s been painting paper mache in the basement of a mansion, he’s been dating this girl with the name of a flower, but I can’t really remember what the name was exactly, she was blonde though, his mother says, if that tells you anything.  He’s attempting to write a book like you, isn’t that cute?  Two people on the street are trying to write books, adorable.  Now you go ahead and go back upstairs and continue your Pulitzer, dinner will be ready at five.”

“When you escape one crisis without resolution, you often unwittingly enter into a continuation of the very same crisis in a different location.” – Zinnia from Bohemian Love Diaries @ Garota Criatividade on We Heart It

There’s something intimate about reading the book of someone who is telling their own story.  You want to believe every single second about it.  Yes, of course Slash made corn bread after being told he couldn’t use milk at a weekend of rejuvenation retreats.   Then you think about your own memories and how your mind has dissected them and turned them each into a Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde of their own being.  My memories have become something that I can look at from my own viewpoint, but they certainly aren’t the whole truth.  That’s what I like about memoir.  If I went to Slash’s flower girlfriend today and asked her to read the few chapters about herself, would she remember it the same?  Probably not.  But that’s what stories are for, right?  We pass them down so they can form and change in other people’s perspectives.  This is also why we argue, we compromise, we vent, we conquer, so many of the stories we tell ourselves are stories that are made-up from true experience.  I love that, write, write, write, people.  Write yourself into a place that you’ve never been too, you can do that.  It won’t be memoir, but it will be that perfect balance of truth and lies.

Slash Coleman is a hero for college creative writer’s everywhere who were told what a great writer they were and then realize that writing is something you do everyday and not something you get rewarded for.  He’s also my personal hero for pointing out tiny flaws between the lines of his memoir with MFA programs.  It’s clear to me that Slash can write, and write well, and make me laugh out loud at the idea of a boy hacking at a tree (not my usual laugh-sequence), but it took him a serious journey to get to where he was writing down his own story.

I loved every embarrassing moment he shared, every moment that would never happen to me in my real life.  This is the kind of story where you say, “YES, now HE should write a memoir, look at the way he’s lived.”  It’s a bit Running with Scissors mixed with Mennonite in a Little Black Dress meets I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell has dinner with every six-word memoir book made at Smith, sleeps with Girl, Interrupted.  I think that pretty much covers it.  Slash puts the humanity into life’s scavengers.  He’s the creepy voice in all of us that tells us how awkward we are in normal situations.  The WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT, JENNY. Except he’s actually living through his own oddness which is truthfully known as “creativity” to those of us that are odd.

Bohemian Love Diaries by Slash Coleman

I guess I should share the title.  Bohemian Love Diaries is a book of a boy growing up and learning how to be himself.  We all go through that “coming of age” story, but we definitely don’t do it all the same way.  It takes some of us longer, some of us need to travel by foot or plane, some of us need to chase others who are “coming of age,” or do something incredibly weird to realize that we just aren’t like everyone else and should Peter Pan our way into not aging.  There’s so many ways to “come of age” which is why I hate that book category, but I guess it can cover this memoir and Jane Eyre at the same time, why not.  Slash begins with his Jewish childhood (and the small hints that his mother is a “closeted Jew).  We learn about his tense relationship with his father and how they come together on terrifying fishing trips.  We also learn that his grandparents and mother were survivors of the Holocaust which I WOULD LIKE YOU TO WRITE THAT BOOK AS WELL, SLASH COLEMAN.  There was a need for all-caps because I found that hint of history so important to his story, and so important to the humanity within this book.  The Holocaust is the defining moment of crushing creativity in our people’s history.

In the middle of the book and throughout the rest, we read about Coleman’s history of important relationships.  We muddle through some relationships, but others are profound in the way we see ourselves.  I think it’s safe to say people have around 2-5 of these profound relationships in their lives.  I really enjoyed the coming clean of Coleman’s relationships because they show how couples can fall apart without the huge deal-breakers that people think end relationships.  It was a really strange, but natural way of showing how a relationship unfolds and why.  The best part of the relationship sections was reading how Coleman got through the after-break-up-ice-cream-gorging-phase.  It felt so real to me and almost uncomfortable in it’s honesty.  I love being uncomfortable when I read.

Moleskine which I suspect had a heavy-hand in the creation of this book. We need an ask Slash session to know for sure.

The book ends in a full-circle road trip with his father.  I won’t give it away, but it’s beautiful.  I don’t often say a plot is beautiful, I’m usually a word person, but the way that this bohemian discovers the truth of his father is devastatingly pretty.  Not girl-pretty, just something-floating-in-space-pretty.   This book won’t be hard to spot since the cover has a small child in underwear and a helmet, which just dawned on me makes complete sense to parts of this story.  I dare you to read it to get to the truth.


It’s the Jr. that makes me wonder if this is real or fictional.

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie, Jr.

This book is like Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain’s relationship.  When it’s good, it’s grand, when it’s bad, it’s awful.  I think every girl wants to be Emma in Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie, Jr. (Thank you, Penguin for the advanced reader’s copy).   She’s the woman that the main character desperately and blindly loves for the entirety of his life.  No matter what young coed happens to pop into his life on a drunken night, what island he moves to, or what desert village he finds himself in halfway through the book, he’s still in love with Emma.  In fact, he’s so in love with Emma, we get 352 pages about Emma.

If you’re into love stories that aren’t always “happily-ever after” and are more the real-life played-out dramas that feature, then here it is. WARNING | GENERALITY: I think every woman has Emma tendencies.  People hold on to those first loves when they’re young enough to doodle that person’s name in flowery script along the edges of their college ruled.  What girl didn’t write, “Mrs. Edward Cullen,” “Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy,” “Mrs. Heathcliff (unknowable first name).”  I’ve never known a guy who talked about his first love in too-nice of words, but Ron seems to have a heart about him.

The part I found the most connection with though was when Ron discussed his father.  I thought these parts of the story were particularly moving and really captured the essence of a family in turmoil over a devastating disease.  I’ve never been close to a family member who had cancer, but I can find myself becoming obsessed with the body of it.  When my grandmother had her stroke, I would find myself staring at her skin.  I always wanted to write out her skin, the purple bruises and the webbed veins.  As a child, you know veins as shadows under skin, but when you see them rise to the surface like expensive and painful lace, it’s hard to disregard the illness.  I knew what it meant to have a stroke because I could look at my grandmother and see the way her body was becoming inside-out.  We use these metaphors to make connections between what we already know and what we have yet to discover.   There’s only one way to feel something and that’s to feel it, but the next best thing is to see it and try to gather something from the swell.

Ron Currie, Jr’s other book & makes sense here on the blog.

However, what did bother me about this book was the post-modern novel narrator.  Can we get over this: “am I the author or the narrator” thing soon?  Why does it matter?  If you write the memoir, write the memoir as if it were incredibly good fiction and not your actual life.  OR on the other hand, write the fiction as if this was some person’s incredibly interesting life.  Do we really have to play the game of “Is Emma real” and “Does Ron Currie, Jr. the character actually love a girl in ‘real-life’ named Emma?”  Excuse me if I say that fiction is my real-life people, they blur more than occasionally.  I understand Ron (which is also my father’s name) was trying to write this book as if it’s the third Emma book in a string of two and therefore a series of books on one woman in her mid-life that is making one man in his mid-life a little insane.

Singularity. It’s amazing what you can find on the internet. Everything in this book about the singularity was in a real book by someone else.

I mean, the guy ends up moving to a shack beside the Red Sea.  The Red Sea to me is some distant sea on a map that makes me imagine a sea of blood.  I can’t help myself.  I know it should be more than that as I am American and America likes to dirty their hands with countries and businesses that are not ours and also because that is a predominant oil region and I drive an unfortunately oil-mannered car.  Honestly, it was at this point in the novel when my suspension as a reader was totally corrupted.  What man moves to the Red Sea (without ruining any of the plot for you) over a woman?  Is this why this is fiction?  Now albeit, my best friend did move to New Zealand for a guy, but everyone at the time, thought she was insane.  Maybe this is just the fate of all people who move for love and heartbreak to foreign places?

This post is making me look like a bigot.

While researching, I did find this Nat Geo on the sister seas of Saudi Arabia.  Exquisite!

This Red Sea business isn’t even the half of it.

The Hurwitz Singularity by Jonty Hurwitz

The worst part of this book and I mean epically bad is this “singularity” business.  We’re all going to become machines, making Dolly look like a quack scientist’s work.  The “singularity” will be this period of time when people are finally able to not be bound by their body, but instead by their mind.  I really enjoyed making the connection between the singularity and his father.  I think it’s really interesting for me to think about my grandmother’s stroke as if she had a stroke of the mind (which she obviously did) and what it would be like for me if her body wasn’t touched by the stroke, just her speech.  However, it interrupted the flow of the narrative.  This was not a science fiction story and I understand that Ron Currie, Jr. has been someone who writes about the after-life, but it took me completely out of the novel when I was reading these small insights of extra-terrestrial futuristic advice and longing.

Maybe this is just a book that’s ahead of itself.  (Or maybe I just need to get better at science fiction).

Now, this is not to say that I don’t recommend this book.  I’m more than mildly obsessed with the fact that the publisher accepted the book with so much white space.  I wish Currie took his white space a bit more seriously, but there’s 352 pages that could have easily been 160.  I also really liked the fact that this was a social commentary on the love story down to the author/narrator juxtaposition.

Be Your Best Self

He says, “And I was no better.  Like everybody else, I had trembled my whole life for something true.  I had hidden, and called it living” (270).  I think this is the real fruit of the book.  We are all living these lives dreaming that we’re something else, or someone else.

Joe B., the NC Poet Laureate came to speak to my classes today, he was wonderful.  He said something really poignant though, I thought.  He said to my students, “when you’re listening to those words through your headphones and all these words coming at you everyday, do you ever say to yourself, ‘I have some words to say.’ And if you do, what are those words?”  My students all wrote down three words against their will, just like they do when I ask them to write something and they make guttural noises and turn their necks into their desks like cranes.  But then they spoke these secret dreams they have, “no more poverty, more justice, fame, more girls, etc.”  And Joe B said to them, “This is your best self.  This is the good you that you hide away and dream.”


Newsday Tuesday:

I’ve found so many things I love for this weeks addition of book news.  In fact, this may be my favorite book news…ever.  Even though there’s only been like eight weeks of Newsday Tuesday.

Mine is perfection.

  • Let me preface this by saying, yes, I follow MuggleNet.  And it seems that Harry Potter helps college students study classic literature.  It certainly didn’t help me with Jane Austen, but maybe others are experiencing euphoria from classic literature.  Personally, I took a whole class (one whole semester) on Chaucer where my teacher spoke Old English (it is another language) and I only realized how dirty he was by the time Wife of Bath came around.  I’m clueless.
  • I found the holy grail of articles for tumblr.  This is a Guide to Literary Tumblrs.  I plan to spend entire days perusing this. The best part: NIKKI GEMMEL HAS A NEW BOOK.  SHE’S ONLY ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS EVER IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE KNOWN UNIVERSE, EVEN PRE-DINOSAUR, HOLY BALLS.

NEW NIKKI

The sad thing is...I remember dancing to this on the bar at City Limits Teen Night. "Dontcha"

Cracks me up, and my grammar isn't even on par.

And that’s it folks; read, read, read.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,037 other followers

%d bloggers like this: