Sleepy baby. It’s so…

Sleepy baby. It's so cold outside (last checked, 5 degrees, feels like -11) that all I want to do is curl up with a good book, a warm blanket, and a cup of tea. Luckily, I have all of those things. :-) Still working on the Prashad book -- it's good, but dense enough that it's a slow read, and I'm feeling the urge to pick up something quicker instead. Maybe I can intersperse the Prashad with something else.

According to the friendly scale, I've lost 2.5 pounds in one week. Since I don't think I've ever managed more than a pound in a week before, and I only exercised half the days last week (and counted calories somewhat lackadaisically), my tentative conclusion is that the whole notion of body 'set points' and the like is accurate, and that it shouldn't be too hard to drop the remaining 2.5 holiday pounds. We'll see whether that proves true.

The waiting is driving me a little crazy. I've heard from about five of the places I interviewed with. Of the remaining many, I don't know whether I didn't make their first cut and they just haven't informed me because they're waiting to see whether their first choices agree to come, or whether they just haven't met yet to decide who they want. I know everyone's in the same boat, and this is just how it goes. I am trying to be patient, though if I don't hear more by the middle of next week, I think I'm going to start contacting schools to find out what's up. Kev tells me that's appropriate, now that I have an on-campus interview scheduled.

I'm not entirely sure what to work on today. I have a bunch of SLF stuff I really should catch up on. Really really. I have Kriti stuff to catch up on. I have my Tamil instruction books waiting for me -- they've been waiting patiently since last fall, but I hate to make them keep waiting longer. My students will be sending in packets of their writing on the last Saturday of every month, which means the first week of each month will essentially be devoted to writing up their critiques and sending them back. That leaves me three weeks/month for writing. A good schedule, I think. Tomorrow, I think I should start revising the novel, if I'm to make Bob's requested due date of March 15th for the next version.

Which means that I want to write more of the memoir today -- a good chunk of it, if possible. I think I have at least half a chapter right now; if I can get a whole chapter, then I can fire it off to a few people for comment/crit, get a better sense of things before proceeding further. As I noted in the last entry, I'm really not sure I know what I'm doing with this book.

What do you look for in a memoir? Plot tension? An interesting life? Complex insights? Beautiful prose? Something else???

What keeps you reading?

10 thoughts on “Sleepy baby. It’s so…”

  1. Beautiful prose, complex insights, and an interesting life. For me, plot tension is not absolutely necessary.

    In this vein, I love Dorthy Allison’s “Two or Three Things I Know for Sure.”

  2. I agree with Rachael and would add interesting people plus a sense of going from there to here. The latter is probably more necessary in an autobiography than a memoir, but a sense of connections is really helpful in a memoir. I think the intellectual presence of the author is the key to a good memoir and is what makes the good ones so immediate to the reader. I also prefer those that display a sense of irony and sense of humor.

    Sometimes it is useful to ask a simple question like, “Why was Angela’s Ashes such a huge phenomenon, creating such a huge audience and making such huge piles of money for the author?”

  3. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    See, this is part of what worries me. I haven’t actually read _Angela’s Ashes_, but Amazon offers a blurb:

    “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

    And I read that and think, well, my childhood was actually reasonably happy. I’m not writing about any great grief or trauma, the sort that can be leavened with humor and compassion to make for a truly compelling read.

    I’m not entirely sure what I’m writing about — something about a complicated sense of identity. It’s just all very muddy right now, and I’m not sure it’s actually interesting to anyone other than me.


  4. I think you have an absolutely compelling theme available to you, one not based on places but much more overtly based on how places and the meanings of places created a person uniquely complex. It can be a discovery and expansion theme. No one is like you, and you have created MM by floating among radically different cultures and places. The task might be to look at, say the UC years and excise the significant elements of MM found there. I know that UC taught me academically to “look at the text, never take your eyes of the text” and it has had a monumental effect on my life as an academic and on my very way of thinking. Salt Lake is interesting not because of SL but because of what you discovered about MM there. How is New England ingrained in MM? How did you slide toward erotica, then slide away?

    I guess what I am saying is that you have an extraordinary book in you, but what you have said about its structure does not convince me that you have found the “hook” that will drive you and the reader through it. Angela’s Ashes has that hook and no one ever put that book down who started reading it. You have the book but perhaps not the internal spine of the narration, and perhaps that is the unease you feel.

  5. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Part of my confusion too, is that I’m not sure if I want to write one memoir or two. At first, I thought I would be incorporating all the sexual material into this book, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt like what I really wanted to write were two separate memoirs — one about ethnicity/cultural identity, and one about sexuality.

    Of course, the two would be in dialogue with each other; I can’t claim that these are easily separable. But I felt like the sexual material would overwhelm the rest, if it was all in one book together.

    As well, I’m not sure I’m ready to write the sexual memoir. To do it right would require a level of explicitness that is a lot to ask my family to cope with — beyond anything they’ve dealt with so far, which was already a lot. I may need to wait a decade or two before writing that material. Maybe that’s just being chicken. I don’t know…

  6. I would recommend going with your gut feeling here. (I last night had a long talk with a young male virgin who is in a dilemma about sex. I told him that if the occasion felt wrong, hold back. It is always the right decision. If the occasion felt right, make his choice knowing that it may be wrong but the odds are pretty good that it is right. Your worries here are similar, I think. Hold back for now.)

    BUT, the memoir you are imagining CAN deal with your choices that made you go to erotica as a writer. The production of Torn Shapes is an exceptionally interesting phenomenon, and your personal sexual life is really not a necessary issue, nor even your sexual philosophy (which makes you special, too). If you pursue the sexual issue as part of your growth as a professional woman, you have plenty of ways of using the natural interest in that topic even as you can avoid for now the issues that give you pause.

    I think the book that perturbs you a bit is wanting to be written, but not right now. By the way, this very journal is an example of how you are able to both use and avoid the subject we are talking about!

  7. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Yah, it may end up something like that. I’m already thinking I’m going to have to mention Karina as an ex in this book, if she does come with me to Sri Lanka, since her presence on my trip will have a complicated relationship to all the identity stuff. But I can mention her and our history together, without going into detail on all the sexuality stuff in a way that I would for a sex-focused memoir. I think.

  8. Re: grief and trauma – I’m not sure that grief and trauma are necessary. What I enjoy in reading memoirs (and actually other genres as well) is the ‘ah-ha’ of having someone talk about their experiences in a way that’s familiar to me… that “oh, wow – they just wrote about a feeling I’ve felt before”  even if the experiences theyre writing about are different. In fact, maybe thats the beauty of memoirs  realizing that someones unique experiences are wholly unique and yet contain emotional elements that are familiar to the reader.

  9. There’s a lovely memoir-essay by Oscar Hijuelos in this week’s New Yorker. It’s true that the poverty and difficulties are important to the story, but there’s also the child’s discovery of a new world, well-drawn characters, evocation of a little scene, and a very simple plot tension–will they get to eat what they want?

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