I’ve been in a “working on the book” mode. I haven’t been in the mood for doing much of anything else, besides maintaining my life so I’m not living in complete disorder and eating from old pizza boxes.
// When I decided to start my project on growing up Asian American, I enthusiastically created a folder (with the now old book title) and moved some things I had worked on into it. Then, I wrote a few essays, riffing on themes and I felt pretty-pretty-pretty good about what I had written.
// Of course, what followed was the period of, NOW WHAT?
// Even though, at this point, I was about halfway through I hadn’t bothered finishing some of the pieces or going back and rereading the old ones that I had written years ago. Cause I wasn’t in the mood.
// There are ‘experts’ out there that will tell you that you should write regardless of whether or not you are in the mood. I get it. I kind of agree, too, but not enough to actually get into the mood to write.
// Funnily, I never call this period writers block. I’m not blocked. I just don’t know what else I’m supposed to write. Now, you might say, “Lani, you idiot, that’s what writer’s block is.” But I know words have power and if you tell yourself you are blocked, then, guess what, you are – and you might panic and make matters worse. (*raises hand*)
// Instead, I prefer to simply ride the wave, sink into the mood until I inevitably swim ashore. I know I’m making it sound jazzy smooth, but feeling like you don’t have anything else to say does suck.
// Normally, I go searching for a nice read to inspire me because: a) good books do that, b) its research (hell, yeah!) and c) sometimes you just need to wait for the metaphoric well to fill up. Breaks are not evil.
// This time around, I read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (because I was in a time travel mood) and I just finished Little Victories by Jason Gay. Now, the latter I discovered when I went on a memoir binge. I find reading about other people’s lives can give me ideas about what to write.
// Awhile back I decided to get into Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (the granddaddy of memoirs), but I couldn’t take all the depressing horrific shit anymore so I had to stop. I tried Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling, but I couldn’t relate to her Hollywood tales and woes. I think I’d like to read her first book instead. Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman was funny and then he lost me. I’ve since gone back and I’m giving it another chance. (I’m a moody reader, eh?) I tried Running with Scissors by Augustin Burroughs (one of the fathers of modern memoirs) but again, I didn’t get hooked. Which is crazy, right? because it was super popular.
// When I started Little Victories I wasn’t into it, but kept reading, you know, to give it a chance. I put it down for a spell, and then returned to it and suddenly I was engrossed. It was so normal. Truly. The appeal of Gay’s writing and story is the normality of it. Sure, he is unique in his own way, but I loved how ordinary his life seemed.
// Because I think there is this old idea that a memoirists’ life has to be utterly incredible (e.g. Angela’s Ashes, Running with Scissors) and while there is strong appeal in those works, I find great appeal in everyday-Jane and Joe stories, too. What can I say? I’m a huge fan of normal. So underrated.
// This is where the work of memoir comes in. It’s all about the story-telling.
// What’s curious is whenever I tell someone for the first time that I’m writing a memoir, I feel a little icky, like memoir is this self-absorbed ME, ME, ME genre that EVERYONE is doing. But then I get the “Oh, my life is not interesting” remark and always I reply, “Sure it is. Everyone has an interesting story to tell.”
// I believe it, too. Whenever I start my probing and prodding, I unsurprisingly find the gold vein and sluice out the nuggets that makes me go, “Really?”
// And that’s why I believe memoir is popular. Usually I tell people, “Everyone could write a memoir”. Not so that everyone does it, per se, but to make a point, we’re all heroes staring in our own fairy tales.
// It’s still weird though to promote and explain that you are writing a book about YOU. So I find myself saying, “I’ve had an interesting life,” (rising intonation?) as if to justify what I’m doing. I’m still working on this…because when I told my Scottish friend I’m writing about growing up Asian American, she blinked back at me and said, “Oh? Is that a thing?”
// Which was essentially a nice way to say, “Who cares?”
Now, I understand that not everybody will be able to relate to what I write. So I have to accept that and think about other ways the book is beyond me: it’s about growing up in Hawaii, American culture, Thai culture, mother-daughter relationships, being an outsider, death, living with an immigrant mother, and so on. It’s about themes I need to still figure out and explore.
// At this time, I’m deliberately steering clear of Asian American memoirs. I don’t want to be paralyzed with fear that their story is better, more interesting, etc., etc. Nor do I want their work to influence mine.
Disclaimer: my book will not have any overt and polemical identity politics or strident political correctness.
// There is a writers conference happening in November in Kampot, a small town a few hours away from Phnom Penh. I have some friends going and I was totally ready to go, take the time off of work, but now I don’t feel the desire. Although, it did make me want to write, to be absorbed with finishing my book. All of a sudden, the date felt like a goal or deadline in which to finish my first rough draft.
I should go, shouldn’t I?
// The problem with writing a book or doing a big creative endeavor like this, is you have to be anti-social. Okay, maybe not anti-social, but you do need to focus and unless you are living under the income of your spouse or family, you have to work. Free time becomes a precious resource. So, plan accordingly. Or in my case, stay at home with my b/f, cook, head to the pool for exercise and fresh air, work, repeat.
// Because while I had a great social life in Chiang Mai, I did very little to get my first book finished. It wasn’t until I moved to Chiang Rai, did I actually publish the missing teacher.
// There are days though, in which I seem to write very little. I’ve learned to be okay with this. Maybe this is why I can’t cough up a book or two every year. Maybe this is why there will always be those who do more and write more, and maybe this is how I stay sane.
// I told my b/f the other day that I’m in the mood to write, not in the mood to study Khmer. Should I squeeze in some time to study? He said, no, stay in the book mood.
// This doesn’t mean that I write all day. I consider reading not only enjoyable, but part of the work of being a writer.
// Plus, during this process, I finding myself attached to the couch watching old TV shows because: a) I’ve been fighting a lung infection, b) I can’t handle American politics (e.g. I need a break from heavily researching both sides of the story), and c) I’m teaching more this term. (I am becoming one with the couch.)
// The thing about memoir though is you have to give yourself permission to write. You can’t feel guilty or weird about writing your story. (I am feeling guilty lately. This is a good sign, right?)
// I try to remember to have fun. I think this is because I have a tendency to self-edit as I write. So, I have to remind myself, don’t edit, just write, don’t edit, just write. Edit later. That’s the bad part of working on a computer, you can endlessly edit until you are screaming for air.
// Through the process of writing, I think you discover where you self-sabotage.
// Vulnerability is not as easy as it looks. Cheryl Strayed in Wild made it seem that way.
// What’s interesting is you have to get over yourself before you can write a solid memoir. You do! Think about it: memoir writing is “love thyself” and “the unexamined life is not worth living” all wheeled into one jelly roll.
// Good memoir is not faking and fabricating your life on social media. A good memoir is heavy on the analyzing of your actions and reactions, even if your book is not serious. Humor, actually, is born out of observation.
// People tend to think that memoir as self-indulgent, narcissistic, self-referential-justifying-my-existence writing, but it’s not. Sure, some of it is, but commissioning someone to write your book feels more that way. I think we forget that we all have our unique view of the world and when we write from our point of view, we’re attempting to reach out and share our stories.
Do you read memoirs? What are your favorite memoirs?