March 7 – On Writing Memoir

by Lily Iona MacKenzie

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I opened the I Ching at random this morning and came up with #38, K’uei / Opposition.  The commentary says it is common for two opposites to exist together, needing to find relationship. I realize an opposition is being set up just in the act of writing Drop Out. My inner writer will be observing everything I do closely and recording what she finds valuable. I’m reminded of a review of Journey into the Dark: The Tunnel by William Gass that appeared in The New York Times Book Review:

Writers double themselves all the time in their fictions, of course. That’s one of the reasons for writing them: to clone yourself and set yourself out on a different path, or to reconfigure yourself as a marginal observer of your own childhood, as Lawrence does with Rupert Birkin in Women in Love, and as Woolf does with Lily Briscoe in To The Lighthouse; or to split yourself in two and reimagine one side of yourself through the eyes of the other, as Joyce does in Ulysses, and as Nabokov does in Pale Fire.

. . . The reason for this is that making copies of ourselves and setting them in motion in imaginary space is built in to the way minds work. We do it all the time–when we plan for a future event, when we relive the past, when we daydream. (July 13, 1995)

I like the idea that I’m daydreaming myself into existence, that day and night dreams, which can be in opposition, work together to make a creative entity. I’m actually making a fiction in my memoir, just as we all are fictions, walking around. I can’t possibly capture my whole life in these pages, so in making the choices I do and recording them, I’m altering my experience, describing a fictional “I” and transforming my life and my experiences. They are both mine and not mine.

In fact, the act of writing these things and reflecting back on them alters that period, transforms it, just as the moon’s reflection changes what it touches, causing us to see a landscape differently at night than in the day time under the sun’s glare. The moon softens surfaces, embraces them. The sun brings out an object’s hard edges and distances us from it. It makes an object seem farther away than the moon’s light does.

In a way, I’m creating a character named Lily, just as other writers recreate themselves when writing memoir. By organizing our pasts as we do, we eliminate a good deal, including only what fits the page limitation and what we’re willing to reveal. Of course, this is how we give shape to a self anyway, by uncovering/discovering it, bit by bit. All of our personality doesn’t show at any one time. Maybe over a long period, the different parts of ourselves will come forward and be exposed. But we are always selecting, choosing.

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Lily Iona MacKenzie sprouted on the Canadian prairies under cumulus clouds that bloomed everywhere in Alberta’s big sky. Her first creative writing instructors, they scudded across the heavenly blue, constantly changing shape–one minute an elephant, bruised and brooding, the next morphing into a rabbit or a castle. These billowing masses gave her a unique view of life.

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4 responses to “March 7 – On Writing Memoir

  1. The Australian Aborigines dream existence into existence.

  2. Genevieve Ramsey

    Upon reflection when writing my memoir I experience such strong emotions I have to take a break. I’m seriously thinking about turning it into fiction.

  3. Quite interesting, LIly. You write very well.

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