100 memoirs project #4: Rise, and too much HGTV

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Rise cover

 

In my few and precious windows of down time, when I’m not reading memoir, I’m watching HGTV.

Tiny House Hunters. Fixer Upper. Property Brothers. Love It or List It. I love me some Love It or List It.

I’m saving for a house, see, and I know I won’t be buying a turn-key, move-in ready, ultra-modern sanctuary. There’s gonna be demo. Mudding. Sanding. Scraping. Replacing. Upgrading.

This TV viewing is research. If I’m having a bad day, I turn it into a drinking game: one sip of red wine every time someone says “open concept,” asks for a large kitchen island, or muses “this space has a lot of potential.” Two sips for every mention of shiplap or subway tile. Three sips if they find asbestos or want a wall blown out but can’t understand that it’s load-bearing and they’ll need to pay out the ass to install a steel beam.

I first heard about Cara Brookins’ memoir Rise from TV, in fact. In January, Brookins was on The Today Show after her book was released, filmed in her 3,500-square-foot labor of love.

The amazing thing to me is that she did the grueling, round-the-clock, self-directed work of building a house based solely on watching youTube videos and then pulled off writing a great book about it. Continue reading

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100 memoirs project #3: The book that made me want to visit Yemen (10 years ago)

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Steil coverI have the pleasure of working with five amazing women through the Center for Creative Writing, which I now direct, and one of them is prose writer and journalist Jennifer Steil. I’ve had her memoir The Woman Who Fell from the Sky on my bedside table for a while now and committed to reading it when I arranged for Jennifer to give a reading at the college where I work.

See, Jennifer was planning to fly in to attend a retreat I was hosting for all my Center teachers. But she currently lives in London and, well…Is there anything else you want me to do, if I’m already making the trip? she asked me when the retreat was in its planning stages.

Writers need work. I knew her memoir was about editing a newspaper in a war-torn country, so she and I collaborated on a pitch to have her read and talk about peacebuilding through art, peace efforts in Yemen, and her experiences witnessing peace and conflict as a Westerner in a Muslim city in 2006, for which she would earn an honorarium from my department at the college (peace studies).

Jennifer flew in last week in the middle of a Stacia hurricane. Continue reading

100 memoirs project #2: Some Bright Morning, I won’t hyper-relate to DV narratives

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anderson coverAlice Anderson’s Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away nearly undid me.

One thing I’m learning about memoir is that the good ones are supposed to do that. They are so real, they cut like a butcher knife on the throat and chest…

When I got to the passage in Anderson’s book about her then-husband’s most brutal assault, and her sweet small boy toddled onto the page and my consciousness to take that knife away, how could I not see my own son’s face over my ex’s shoulder when ______?

No really, I’m asking. How?

(I’m a little frustrated with myself for being still so vulnerable to these stories that simultaneously and quite literally saved me, continue to save me. I’m working on it.)

I heard Anderson speak on a memoir panel at this year’s AWP conference. I took lots of notes, but what I most remember is what she said about expected narratives: Could she take her story of abuse and “make it a love story?”

Well damn if she didn’t. Continue reading

100 memoirs project #1: Things I wrote down while reading Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir

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I wanted The Art of Memoir to be the first book I read and posted about for my 100 memoirs project. It’s not a memoir, but it’s about memoir, and Karr is an expert who frequently delves into autobiography while dispensing her brilliant advice, so it counts.

It took me a long time to finish this book because I was underlining so much. Then I stopped underlining and just started writing things down. Then my hand got tired so I started taking pics of whole passages so I could carry them with me.

The Art of Memoir made me think two conflicting thoughts, sometimes both at once: I can/can’t do this.

“Writing a memoir is knocking yourself out with your own fist,” you see.

Here are some actual notes-to-self I made in my journal, and some of the most impactful quotes or tips I absorbed, while reading The Art of Memoir: Continue reading

100 memoirs

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I was looking at this big stack of books in my home office, books I’m dying to read, and rhetorically asking myself how to make time for them. I thought, I need someone to hold me accountable.

Book club? Omg if I schedule one more thing to have to go to…

Some kind of email book club? Still probably a deadline, and I want this to be fun and loose so I actually do it.

Goodreads? No more social media.

So I’m gonna use this space to hold myself accountable. I’m going to read memoirs and blog about them. Not really reviews, just informal responses, maybe with a little real life splashed in. No rules. Some of the memoirs I read will be second or third reads. Sometimes I will link to posts I’ve done on these books elsewhere. Sometimes I will write a lot, sometimes only a little. I might read three in a month and then none for three months.

But I’m going to read 100 of them. Continue reading

Third birthday of my after-me

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Content warning: domestic violence

 

Three years today.

Last year on this day, I wrote about getting stronger. Two years ago on this day, I wrote about my proclivity for leaving.

This year, I want to claim this day not as an anniversary like I have previously, but as another birthday, a rebirthday, because despite this ongoing healing process, I still feel—I am, I was—ripped into two halves: me before domestic violence and me after. Continue reading

A Response to Jia Tolentino’s “The Personal-Essay Boom is Over”

“…to say that the personal is no longer political seems like just a new way of telling women to shut up about themselves because there are more important things in the world to talk about.” All the yes. Don’t shut up. ❤

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zoeBy Zoë Bossiere

A couple of weeks ago, a piece by Jia Tolentino came out in The New Yorker called “The Personal-Essay Boom is Over.” The title alone was enough to deluge social media feeds with writers stepping forward to defend the vitality of the personal essay in spite of the article’s assertions, or otherwise agreeing with Tolentino that the personal essay is, in fact, “dead.” The only problem is, the article isn’t actually about what we writers know as the personal essay at all, but rather a separate subgenre of nonfiction called the “confessional essay.” If we want to get even more specific, Tolentino’s article is talking specifically of the confessional essays typically printed in online “women’s” publications such as xoJane, Jezebel, Salon, and others. To compare the personal and the confessional is a common false equivalence, and a great underestimation of all that first-person nonfiction writing encompasses.

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Alive in the superunknown

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superunknownMy alarm went off today at 5:45 and the first thing I saw when I grabbed my phone to hit snooze was the AP alert that Chris Cornell was dead.

I know I’m a writer and I’m supposed to be able to describe these feelings in a way that you might not have heard before, but to which you can also relate, but fuck me if I can do that right now.

I cried in bed. I can’t cry about any aspect of my own life to save it, but SPCA commercials, songs, movies, my kid saying unexpected poetic things, dead children in Syria, dew on a spiderweb–beauty and pain, beauty and pain, beauty and pain, there go my eyes. It’s never buckets. It’s an ache that rises and squeezes an offering of empathy to my face, cheeks, hands, to evaporate into some shared space. It’s permission to feel. I might be broken but I heal.

When there is a very public death of someone we don’t know “in real life,” especially when we lose an artist, I always think that it isn’t the person so much as the loss of possibility that we mourn. I’d like to revise that sentiment. Continue reading

Someone I love is being abused: Notes from the other side

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A friend of mine recently shared with me that she’s been dealing with emotional and physical abuse at the hands of a guy she was seeing.

I say was because she has fortunately left the relationship, and now is when I worry about her the most.

The most dangerous time for a victim is immediately after escape.

My friend was safe last night and this morning. She has a plan and she is strong.

I’m not going to share her story because it’s not mine to share, but I do want to talk a little about being on the other side of this for once—being the friend who listens and believes and doesn’t say should, the way my closest friends listened to and believed me and didn’t say should. (And guess what, not saying should isn’t easy, so thank you, friends. You’re incredible.)

I’m not new to people telling me they’ve been abused. Writing about domestic violence in a public way means that women frequently contact me and tell me about their own experiences. It’s the most positive feedback I receive—which might sound strange, but those messages always come with a thank you, I feel less alone since I read what you wrote. Good, that’s why I wrote it.

What I’m new to is being close to someone, seeing warning signs, and still practicing what I preach about listening instead of instructing. Continue reading

Taking over the Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing: On gratitude and humility while still owning one’s success

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Friends, it is not very often I get to share news this big, and I’ve been sitting on it for nearly four months, so here goes.

I’ve been teaching and designing online writing courses for the Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing for almost three years now. The Center is independent, founded in 1990 by Elizabeth in her own home, and exclusively online and expanding since 2000. It’s wonderful work and I’ve been so happy doing it. On this past New Year’s Eve, Elizabeth called me to say she wants to retire to follow a lifelong dream of hers (this incredible woman has many, many dreams), and she offered me the Center: to take it over, run it, grow it as I see fit.

After I picked myself up off the floor, I accepted her offer. Continue reading