“I’ll never write memoir.”
I remember telling this to Elissa, my former intern and now soon-to-be published memoirist (I wish I could say she learned it all from me, but maybe a couple of choice Brian-isms have infected her brain), once when we were talking about how her book was coming along. Elissa disagreed, telling me I had a voice for memoir–I just needed to give it a try.
Then, a few years ago, I was struggling to write a poetry collection I’ve since abandoned–a few good poems but even more shitty ones–and a novel Jaime panned after only making it a few thousand words in. I was ready to be done with writing–to close the file on my career, sick of making small talk at readings with other writers who had projects, awards, reasons to get up in the morning and put black on white while I plugged my novel, my collection of poems, as if I was actually still working on them. The answer to “What are you writing?” became as bloated as my stomach, knowing “a novel” would raise some eyebrows, despite also knowing that “novel” was an overstatement of the 30,000 words of bullshit taking up residence in my hard drive and time-sharing my brain space between work and worrying about my own artistic failure. I had been trying to kick start this blog, too, because everyone was doing it (The fastest way to a book deal is to start a blog or kill someone in Italy after all.), by posting book reviews, dispatches from the world of failed grant writing and little posts about the correlation between poop and coffee. (You won’t find those on here anymore!)
My refusal to write memoir wasn’t because it can be a genre wholesaling woe, redemption and that fine line between self-awareness and self-absorption. I was just too scared to be so revealing and couldn’t quite find the threads of my own stories worth yanking out and showing you. The real gift of nonfiction is the distillation of the most honest and personal stories of one’s life, which, although they have just happened to you, are told with such force and sincerity that readers believe it could have happened to them. A few years ago, I hadn’t even accepted that the story-worthy parts of my life had happened to me, much less dealt with the pain, shame and fear they inspired in me. Maybe I was hoping it would all pass.
Now I write about parts of my life I struggle to tell my friends and loved ones, people I know well and care about, and have documented the good, the bad and the ugly of losing, gaining back and losing the combined weight of an obese English mastiff, both here on this blog and on stage with pictures that have run the spectrum of audience reactions, from deep chortles to walking out in disgust. Also, someone cried, someone else said you had no soul if you didn’t like it. (So there.)
Writing about my life has given me a sense of control over my own stories and has instilled a fearlessness in me, the most important element of nonfiction writers, that I never had before as a writer or a person. The stakes are higher, too, when writing about one’s life. The risk of exposing too much about yourself or someone else is almost as exciting–and painful–as the act of writing itself.
Through writing here and for “Fat Fuck,” I’ve learned–and said–all too much about myself, but most of all, I’ve learned one of the most cliche axioms of all can be true: never say never. I hate when people tell me that almost as much as I hate being wrong.