if its not yummy, then we better make it funny.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Autobiography 101

Last quarter I decided to put a fire underneath myself and make autobiographical writing the focus of my studies at Evergreen. I had naive notions that I could get a chapter written, rough draft per week. One "I dont care what it looks like-just a finished chapter" per week. I started by making a time-line. You should give that a try some day. It's quite a captivating, reflective process. First I brainstormed my better moments, then all kinds of moments. Scenarios wafted up from the murky archives in my mind. After collecting a bunch, I worked them into a chronological sequence. This was trickier than you might think because some spanned a long time and other parts were appliqued over the top. Life isn't that linear.

The dredging up of my experiences was a more time consuming and tumultuous process than I expected (albeit pretty therapeutic). In contrast to my recent fictional works the autobiographical stories had a predetermined outcome and I had more concern whether the stories were moral, worthwhile and compelling, since they were about me. The initial process of putting my life experiences onto a time line and then taking isolated pieces of it didn't work well. I had to force myself to take a more organized approach. For example, if I felt compelled to write about a certain event that happened in my thirties, I would have to speculate what my reader already knew about my life from previous chapters (that have not yet been written). This impacted the writing of the piece and was bound to increase editing work later. I needed a more linear approach.
Eventually, I went back to the beginning, and started again, researching my grandparents lives for the beginning of my story and then my early life and so on. This process filled hours, but not pages. It is clear that I had not been realistic to expect to finish ten chapters in ten weeks.

Nonetheless I managed to write several chapters. I still think about my time-line and ruminate over the project. It has to share my attention with the kids and their needs and curiosities. There are new shoes to buy and then search for and the swimming lessons on Friday afternoons to be on time for. Jordan could use more support also, with his deadlines for observation proposals and his self absorbed scholarly doubts and presentation jitters.

Ill choose a chapter to put on here. I just need to pick out if it will be one prepared for my straight and narrow teacher or a more raw draft that feels more like my voice. Stay tuned I'm still here! I'm teaching sourdough class tonight, though, so it wont be for a couple of days.

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