Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Kind of Writer Who Writes Books

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People are always telling me that I should write about my childhood. “It would make such a good book!” they say.
Usually shortly after stating how utterly depressing hearing about it was. I’m not sure how the words “utterly depressing” always conjure the idea of “such a good book”, but for whatever reason they do.
For years I’ve responded to this pressure otherwise known as friendly advice, the same way: I smile and shrug and say “I’m not the kind of writer who writes books”, and then I sit back and enjoy the confused expression on the face of whoever is probing into my creative process.
The truth is, I probably could write a book, if I felt the need to. At least I think so, because that’s how I write poetry, and whatever it is you would call all the other things I write. I feel the need, and I can do it.
The other thing that’s always stopped me is that I don’t remember my childhood. Or more accurately, I don’t remember the specifics of my childhood. I don’t remember if we were living in Santa Rosa or San Rafael when my sister and I were chased by the rattlesnake that my dad chopped up with a shovel. I don’t remember if I was 5 or if I was 6 when my mother left during my afternoon nap, not to return for a long time (but how long exactly?), leaving the house smelling of overcooked meatloaf and abandonment. I don’t remember if it was the first Christmas after she disappeared, or the second, when she showed up suddenly on Christmas Eve, dropped off an armful of gifts and disappeared again without a word. I only remember how my childhood felt. I know the stories, some of them because I actually remember them, but more of them because I’ve heard them so many times, but better than all of that, I remember how it felt. How though, to paint a picture of how it felt, without putting images that aren’t exactly true in place of the actual memories, to represent whatever it was that happened whenever it was that it happened, that made me feel the way I remember always feeling? How do I tell a story I don’t remember, without lying to you, just to get my point across? And where is the line between artistic representation, and a boldfaced lie? I guess the same place where the line between exploiting and exalting the people in your life for the sake of “your art” is.
Maybe it’s easier to just say I’m not the kind of writer who writes books.

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