Birth is of course violent. Menstruation is violent. Trust me, if men's penises opened up once a month and shot blood, we'd be hearing about the violence of it.— Lidia Yuknavitch
The most powerful Lidia Yuknavitch quotes to get the best of your day
I'd say art is with you. All around you. I'd say when there doesn't seem to be anyone else, there is art. I'd say you can love art how you wish to be loved. And I'd say art is a lifeline to the rest of us - we are out here. You are not alone. There is nothing about you that scares us. There is nothing unlovable about you, either.
Books, like all art, breed in us desire.
In times of crisis and fear and misrepresentation we need desire, or else we shut down and hide out in our houses, succumbing to infotainment and the ease of an available latte, turning off our brains and emotions. Books breed desire.
I get kind of tired of the "But it's your life!" attitude about memoir.
I wrote. I engaged in artistic production. I made a piece of art. Why the preciousness or mystical unicorns around "memoir"? I'm curious how you feel about it just now.
So yes I know how angry, or naive, or self-destructive, or messed up, or even deluded I sound weaving my way through these life stories at times. But beautiful things. Graceful things. Hopeful things can sometimes appear in dark places.
Poetry, for example, goes so deeply into the space between corporeal affect and deep emotion (even primal in some cases) that, as Emily Dickinson said, it can blow the top of your head off. Poetic language is sometimes misunderstood as "abstract" when in reality, it's precise - precisely the language of emotions and the body.
To be honest, we live in an exciting time where form is concerned.
My sincerest hope is that more people will notice this and agree to play and invent - the only way to not succumb to the complacency and market-driven schlock of the present tense is to continually interrogate it from the inside out.
When someone says something dunderheaded to me about the material, it's usually a big neon sign revealing their own damage or ignorance, so my compassion kicks in.
The convention of the coming-of-age story and the love story were literally abandoned - because they had to be - and a new kind of coming-of-age and love story emerged that required a different kind of telling the story.
This is something I know: damaged women? We don't think we deserve kindness.
IN fact, when kindness happens to us, we go a little berserk. It's threatening. Deeply. Because if I have to admit how profoundly I need kindness? I have to admit that I hid the me who deserves it down in a sadness well.
Laughter can shake you from the delirium of grief
Have endless patterns and repetitions accompanying your thoughtlessness, as if to say let go of that other more linear story, with its beginning, middle, and end, with its transcendent end, let go, we are the poem, we have come miles of life, we have survived this far to tell you, go on, go on.
Because rage and violence are human emotions and drives and capacities that inhabit us all. SEE CARL JUNG. Or that hipster Joseph Campbell. Because we all take archetypal journeys in a million ways - literal, symbolic, you name it - that figure, disfigure, and refigure violence.
I look for the moment(s) in the story where the writer risked abandoning the glory of the self in favor of the possible relationship with an other. I don't ever let the market tell me what a memoir is. The first best memoir I ever read was Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.
I don't have any problem understanding why people flunk out of college or quit their jobs or cheat on each other or break the law or spray-paint walls. A little bit outside of things is where some people feel each other. We do it to replace the frame of family. We do it to erase and remake our origins in their own images. To say, I too was here.
I work from the body - I try to develop a language of the body.
I've invented a term I call "corporeal writing" around that idea. I love teaching and collaborating around this idea, because no new breakthrough in literature ever happened because everyone was doing what was already there.
If I hadn't spent a big chunk of time in academia I might not have the depth of consciousness I do about ideas like that. I might think, for instance, that Freud was no big deal in terms of the shape of social organization then or now. I might think that the discourses of politics and law are real and stable and fair.
Worse, the bodies of women, minorities, children, disenfranchised bodies (prisoners, so-called nut cases, etc...) and their truths don't "count" as either present and important in society or worth Pulitzer prizes as characters in literature.
Memoirs have at their heart a content that "happened" to someone in real life.
Is that what you are itching at in your question, so that if you are a reviewer or you are writing a critique you might feel as if you are stepping on someone's actual face?
Only the violent acts of men "count" toward something besides evil in a patriarchy. It is the male story of violence that is sanctioned both socially and aesthetically. The male hero and acts of heroism require violence. Everyone is okey dokey with that. We are only beginning to see that constricting set of truths open up a little.
The memoir as a somewhat indistinct form is absolutely true.
So many of the memoirs I've read, and the ones I have gravitated toward most, somehow upend what I expect from memoir and the project seems greater than just the exposition of a life.
One thing about humans is that we all have them - lifestories.
We live by and through them. But writers of memoir are particularly good at bringing literary strategies and form to experience (at least the good ones are).
The chief reason I shove the reader inside the body - or more specifically, the chief reason I try to get the reader to feel their own body while they are reading, is this: we live by and through the body, and the body, is a walking contradiction.
The maternal impulse in animals to protect their young - that kind of instinct and subsequent violence is quite beautiful. Mythic even.
We can't handle violence in women characters but we CAN handle what's done to women in our present tense every second of the day worldwide? Or next door? Or in political or medical discourse? Please. That idea just makes me want to crap on a table at a very fancy restaurant.
Every once in a while a messy character who manifests a REAL body emerges, for instance, Lisbeth Salander - and certainly commercial genre fiction is full of examples of real bodied sexual encounters or violence encounters - but for the most part, and particularly if you are a woman or minority author, your characters' bodies have to fit a kind of norm inside a narrow set of narrative pre-ordained and sanctioned scripts.
We live through sound and light—through our technologies.
One of the things that bugs me about the Western Literary Tradition is that the conventions of narrative in particular seem to confine the stories you can tell about characters to tropes of bone-headed action and old models of psychological realism. And as readers, too, we have been conditioned to understand characters as - and forgive me for saying it out loud - what the market says they should be. Namely, safe, clean, proper.
Sometimes saviors look different than you thought they would.
In water, like in books—you can leave your life.
In my real life I had to confront the sins of the father, but it's also a symbolic journey - a social, psychological, sexual journey for women and minorities who must pass through patriarchy and the symbolic order in order to claim a self.
Which is mightily ironic since one of the most common criticisms of American women novelists (it's a load of crap but it gets bandied about a good bit) is that they don't write the "big" stories about "universal" or "worldly" concepts...Jesus. Um, when we do? We get told to get back in the kitchen and bedroom - go back to writing about love-y wife-y mother-y things.
Most of my formal choices are a combination of everything I learned about form - semiotics, linguistics, and the history of style experimentations tethered to literary movements (formalism, deconstruction, modernism, and postmodernism), and the basic principal of breaking every rule I ever learned from a patriarchal writing tradition that never included my body or experience, and thus has nothing to offer me in terms of representation.
I first read Freud's famous case study on hysteria based on his client Ida Bauer when I was in my twenties. It pissed me off so badly it haunted me for 25 years. But I had to wait to be a good enough writer to give Ida her voice back. And I had to go get my own first too. I not only know the case study inside and out, like most women, I lived a version of it. Maybe it's time for us to tell our versions.
Aspiration gets stuck in some people.
It's difficult to think yes. Or up. When all you feel is fight or run.
The practice of employing metaphor and image and composition and linguistic choices to move the reader through the content.
I've noticed over the past years of my writerly life that women writers in particular are discouraged in cleverly disguised forms from including the intellectual in their creative material way more than you would believe.
These words "accessible" and "emotionally available" get thrown at us from agents and editors and publishers - or the reverse - if it's not all goo-ey and sentimental we're told it's "cold" or "uncaring" or "emotionally vacant." In other words, responses to women's writing in particular continue to be "gendered."
I just want my stories to be mine.
Your life doesn’t happen in any kind of order.
Events don’t have cause and effect relationships the way you wish they did. It’s all a series of fragments and repetitions and pattern formations. Language and water have this in common.
As far as being territorial about one's own life, that's a mistake for ANY writer. All writers everywhere, in every genre, are drawing from their life and the lives of those around them for "material." Memoirs just make transparent and even amplify that activity.
The best memoirs - like This Boy's Life, or Crazy Brave [by Joy Harjo], for instance - bring you through a private river of storytelling that joins a major ocean of human struggle and joy. The act of enunciation - the forms and strategies of storytelling - are every bit as literarily serious as they are in poetry or other prose forms.
To a certain extent that happens with all kinds of successful writers and artists and celebrities, but there is also something about the form of memoir that creates an eerie reader space of intimacy that is only "real" in the space of the text.
The WRITER of memoir gets incoming weirdness in very odd ways.
I was recently talking to a memoir writer whose work just went meteoric - but some of the comments and communications and gestures she gets in the wake of that success are stunningly and atrociously over-personal, as if suddenly people feel like they know her and her life intimately, and have permission to transgress all her "life" boundaries.
Underneath the forms of fiction and poetry, you can bet your ass the ground comes from someone's actual life experience.
I don't have much interest in writing if there are not opportunities to crack open the inherited forms. The writing I love to read most does this as well. I'm a form junkie.
I do have one regret though. I wish Kathy Acker was still alive. I wish I could go swim with her again. My literary indebtedness to her is enormous. She's a more important mother to me than anyone can possibly imagine. In language I became a daughter worth a crap because of her. In language I redefined daughter, woman, I became a writer. Dora is an homage of sorts.
Fiction and poetry expose intimate things from a person's life every bit as much as memoir does, and sometimes more. I don't quite see or live the distinction you are making about the forms.
You see it is important to understand how damaged people don't always know how to say yes, or to choose the big thing, even when it is right in front of them. It's a shame we carry. The shame of wanting something good. The shame of feeling something good. The shame of not believing we deserve to stand in the same room in the same way as all those we admire. Big red As on our chests.
Certainly I'm participating in an already established and awesome tradition, but it's a tradition that sort of shoots up and through the mainstream in short bursts and pulses and then gets diluted. Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson shot up and then got sucked back down underground under more entertaining and less radical versions of body and self - poetry and prose that posited bodies in more perfect union with good citizenship.