CBR 15 Bingo – North America
I was gifted this book for my 40th birthday as I had made it known to many of my friends that I started working on my own memoir-ish book. In the time since I started my book, I have stopped and started and stalled many times over so I waited months to crack this open, as it sat taunting me, bursting with the expertise of the lauded memoirist Mary Karr. When I finally got over myself and begrudgingly and slowly read it, I was glad I did because Karr is filled with wisdom and her writing is wickedly good. As often happens when I read a non-fiction book about writing, Karr took something that seemed impossible and made it seem a little more possible and highlighted the fact that even she, writer extraordinaire, is plagued by doubt and finds herself stuck with a blank page, mocking her with its emptiness.
Since I haven’t actually read Karr’s most famous work, “The Liars Club” which is a raw and unflinching look at her own life, growing up in East Texas, I won’t speak too much to her writing own writing, but if you’re interested Lena Dunham discusses it eloquently in this essay, written for the 20th anniversary of the book. What I will do is share some of the passages that resonated with me most from “The Art of the Memoir,” the distillation of her expertise as a writing teacher.
“To tap into your deepest talent, you need to seek out a calm, restful state of mind where your head isn’t defending your delicate ego and your heart can bloom open a little. For me, my mind is constantly checking where I am in line – comparing myself to others, or even to a former self, racing fretting, conniving to get ahead.”
SAME. If comparison really is the thief of joy (per Teddy Roosevelt, or whoever actually coined the phrase), AND practice makes perfect, then Pitt and Clooney should have recruited me as one of Danny Ocean’s original 11 because I have mad stealing skills at chipping away at my own happiness (rimshot).
“Just apply your ass to the chair (as someone wise once said, a writer’s only requirement) and for fifteen or twenty minutes, practice getting your attention out of your head, down to some wider expanse in your chest or solar plexus – a place less self-conscious or skittery or scared. The idea is to unclench your mind’s claws.”
Just typing that one sentence out made me feel a little less alone, and a little more capable, not to mention by reflecting on it again I noticed what she’s describing mirrors the principles of meditation, which I’ve been working on for the past few months. What a lovely bit of synchronicity.
“If you find yourself blocked for a period, maybe goad yourself in the direction of how you hoped at the time. Ask yourself if you aren’t strapping your current self across the past to hide the real story.”
Isn’t that a fine how do you do. How dare you be so insightful and brave, Karr, while simultaneously inviting us to peek behind the curtain while you also wrestle with your inner critic.
Once I read Stephen King’s “On Reading” I will have completed an essential trifecta of writing (coupling Karr’s book with Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird”) and finally be ready to get back to work writing my own book, she says, putting more goal posts up before actually having to do the work of writing.
But maybe, who knows? Stranger things have happened.