Our Two Selves
October 21, 2015. 4:53am. I sit here at my kitchen island, coffee cup inches from me, a book splayed open. The book: The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. I finished reading it last night and I have so many thoughts. Too many to share here, but I will share one or two.
In the beginning, when there are zero pages, you have to cheer yourself into cranking stuff out, even if it later lands on the cutting room floor. Each page takes you somewhere you need to travel before you can land in the next spot. You zigzag, and in the low moments, you just have to keep plodding on - saying the next small thing about which you feel strongly, trying to nestle down into that single instant of clear memory you know without shadow of doubt is both true and important to who you've become. (Mary Karr, THE ART OF MEMOIR, p. 214)
Here, Karr is referring to what she calls the generative self, the self that creates. The other self: the editor self. She argues, and compellingly too, that we need both. Wait, who needs both? Writers, for sure. We must crank out pages, create the raw material we will then whittle down and spiff up. That makes sense, but what's most interesting to me and why I'm drawn to books like Karr's is that the above exhortation can be (and perhaps should be) interpreted as applying to all of us, not just writers or memoirists, but human beings.
In life, we must allow ourselves the freedom to make choices, to create a life for ourselves. We pick partners and careers. We make homes and goals. We have kids or don't. We move forward and we must, on a certain level, cheer ourselves on as we do so, but then we must edit. We must step back and look at ourselves and our lives with a more critical eye, figure out what needs to be cut or tweaked or rearranged. Are you with me? (I'm barely with me. Hey, it's early, but there's something to this...)
The point is that we must allow ourselves to produce pages - of books, of life - and that some of those pages will last and some won't, but they are all important. Zigzagging is part of the game - in writing and in living - and we must remember this. In our low literary and existential moments, we must plod on. This makes so much sense to me.
I love this about books. How they can crack something open in me, make me realize things. As many of you know, I'm a wee bit of a perfectionist, and I sometimes bemoan the scrapped pages and detours and "mistakes", but when I really think about it, and when I read books like Mary Karr's, I remember how important it is to allow these things in my writing - and, ultimately, in my life.
I will leave you with another passage from the book which I adored:
But I still feel awe for us - yes, for the masters of who wrought lasting beauty from their hard lives, but for the rest of us, too, for the great courage all of us show in trying to wring some truth from the godawful mess of a single life. To bring oneself to others makes the whole planet less lonely. The nobility of everyone trying boggles my mind. (Mary Karr, THE ART OF MEMOIR, p. 218)
To bring oneself to others makes the whole planet less lonely... Isn't this what so many of us are trying to do day after day, through our writing and our work and our living? We go out in the world. We literally bring ourselves to others. We lock eyes and talk and remember that we are far from alone. We try.
Not sure whether this post made a great deal of sense, but alas, I loved this book and recommend that all of you - writers of memoir and livers of life - read it. So much wisdom packed in there. Mary Karr is amazing and I look forward to reading her other books. An (overly) personal aside: I'm off now to see my therapist. I see her at 6am once a month and look forward to our sessions. They feel important somehow. I will run this theory of selves by her. The idea that we are constantly creating/generating pages of our lives while simultaneously editing them... Isn't a therapist like an editor in many ways? Someone who has a more expert, objective eye, who can point out the flaws in our prose, and brainstorm with us ways to polish and improve our stories?
Cutting myself off. Happy Wednesday, guys!
Does this post make any sense to you?
Do you agree that we all need a generative self and an editor self?
Are you interested in writing or reading memoirs?