There’s a lot of memoir talk flying around right now. Is writing memoir “cheating”? Are memoirs lazy and narcissistic and opportunistic? Are they inherently dishonest due to their reliance on the flawed mechanism of memory? Why do memoirs now seem intentionally deceitful in greater numbers than ever before?
I’m not going to bother defending the genre of memoir here because my friend Stephen Elliott at The Rumpus does so with great eloquence in his response to Antrim, “Defending Memoir, or, The Problem with Taylor.” But I do want to try to field some of the thoughts that have been zinging around in my head and keeping me awake nights, as I prepare for the release of my own memoir while reflecting on the deaths this week of Howard Zinn and J.D. Salinger.
Both Zinn and Salinger had a profound effect on my life at different times, for different reasons. Like about twenty zillion other people, reading Salinger in high school made me feel less alone. Even if I felt dropped from an alien vessel into the lap of my family, there was a family to which I metaphysically belonged- the Glass family. Literature gave me a sense of connectedness, and my relationship with Salinger’s work typified this connection. Nine Stories made me want to write; it lit that little fire in me. Salinger emboldened me to enter my own words into the big dialogue that is writing, that is reading.
And Zinn bolsters me even now when I start to wilt. When I think- who gives a shit about my little story? Who am I to blather on with this self-involved mediocrity? Zinn tells me that that my voice is significant. That my struggle is relevant. That my story is the stuff of history.
And so is yours. So the next time you see me, tell me a story. Maybe it’ll be a story that changes the world.
Just over a year ago we returned from Africa with T. It’s taken me a minute to write about it for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I have a BABY now (yes, I really, really do) and I’m a wee bit short on blogging time. The second is that I’ve been snowed under with emotion about it. I’m caught off guard at odd moments by memories of the faces of the people who cared for my son at some point along his incredible journey. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the hands that bathed and fed and held him while he waited, and we waited, to become a family. I watch him while he sleeps and I thank T’s birth mother, I thank his caregivers, I thank the adoption agency, for keeping him safe and for ultimately bringing us together.
A year. It feels like he’s always been here and at the same time it feels so strange- we have a little boy now. Yes, we really, really do. How do I know this? Over the course of five minutes I tripped on a toy truck, a ukulele and a smooshed pear.
When I was in the theater, it was common knowledge that you weren’t supposed to read your own reviews. And to this I always said…AS IF. And in that spirit, I present to you my very first reviews for Some Girls. The first is from Kirkus Reviews, notoriously the grumpiest of the grumpies. I skipped to the end for the good part…
…Lauren, who considers singer Patti Smith “the barometer of all things cool and right,” is a deft storyteller, imparting equal parts poignant reflection and wisdom into her enlightening book.
A gritty, melancholy memoir leavened by the author’s amiable, engrossing narrative tenor.
There was also a pretty darn good review in The Library Journal. The cool thing about this review is that Some Girls is listed alongside Nick Flynn’s new memoir The Ticking is the Bomb. I’m thrilled to have my book listed on the same internet as Nick Flynn’s book, much less the same page. I wrote Some Girls with Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City sitting on my desk in front of me. I hoped that some alchemical miracle would transmit a hint of Flynn’s poetry and authenticity into my work.
Miep Gies died last week at the age of 100. I’ve known her name since The Diary of Anne Frank came crashing into my life as a little girl and left me forever changed. I’m not sure I can name a book that has had a greater influence on my life, and I’m sure I could walk out my door right now and find five people to say the same thing without leaving my block. In my upcoming memoir, I write briefly about the psychic imprint Anne left on me. If it hadn’t been for the heroism of Miep Gies, who rescued the papers off the floor of the annex where Anne and her family hid for two years, the world would be a different place.
A striking example of the far reaching influence of The Diary of Anne Frank can be found in Ted Conover’s book Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing. Newjack tells the story of Conover’s year as a maximum security corrections officer. In Sing Sing, he meets a prisoner convicted of armed robbery and keeplocked for extorting other inmates. The prisoner has tattooed down his back these lines of Anne Frank’s, translated into Spanish:
When everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if…if only there were no other people in the world.
Above is a page scanned from my scrapbook from days long gone, when I did things like backpack around Europe by myself. My friend Garrett and I flew from Rome to Amsterdam and with all the hell we raised there, my most memorable moment was my tour of the Anne Frank House. Winding through that tiny attic, I felt the full import of my own freedom.
I don’t have anything new to add to the mix, but I’m preoccupied with this tragedy right now and I wanted to post about it.
My friend talented friend Bett Williams often blogs about Voudoun and the Orishas. Her blog today focuses on Maya Deren’s amazing Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti.
There are many organizations through which you can help out, but I thought this texting program was interesting: if you want to donate money but are a little short right now, the State Dept. has set up a way to donate via text message. Text “Haiti” to 90999 and a donation of ten dollars will be added to your next phone bill and forwarded to the Red Cross.
Also- I was reconsidering yesterday’s post. Maybe watching Lady Gaga hump a blow-up killer whale in a baby pool is entirely appropriate viewing for Tariku. I mean, he’s almost 2. I was dancing around to “Like a Virgin” when I was eight years old and it’s not like I wound up in a harem in Southeast Asia or anything. Oh, wait. Never mind.
T-Bone is obsessed- I mean head-over-heels, eyes-for-no-other obsessed- with Lady Gaga.
We listen to music all the time at home, exposing T to everything from Bach to Black Sabbath. He used to constantly ask for Bob-ah (i.e. Bob Marley. T adds AH to every word. As in hot-ah, nap-ah, etc etc.) but even Bob couldn’t stand up to the awe-inspiring power that is Gaga. T won’t abide anything other than Gaga these days. He literally wakes up saying her name. When he had a massive meltdown at Disneyland last week he screamed and sobbed and made the ASL sign for “music” while saying Gaga over and over.
Well, let’s just add this morning’s behavior to the running “why I’m a bad mommy” list I have going in my head. Somewhere underneath “switched from homemade organic baby food to a diet comprised more or less of chicken sausage and french fries,” is “doesn’t allow any TV except for about twelve Lady Gaga videos in a row at 6AM.”
I gave up and plopped T in front of Youtube when I realized that I was so tired I literally couldn’t remember the lyrics to “You are My Sunshine.” You have never seen such joy, such revelry, such dancing.
His very favorite Gaga video is “Bad Romance.” He likes the part of the song that goes:
Rah-rah-rah-ah-ah, Roma-ro-mah-mah, Gaga-ooh-la-la, Want your bad romance.
I figure it’s kind of his generation’s version of “Supercalifragilisticexbealidocious.”
Enjoy the video for yourself above. Lest you feel that you’d like to argue with me about my being a bad mommy, let me tell you that in his favorite part of the video, Lady Gaga wears a polar bearskin rug as a skirt. She slips off the skirt and stands in her underwear in front of a masked man, whom she then proceeds to light on fire.