I had great expectations in my memoir writing class at Gotham Writers Workshop today. In my 10-week fiction writing class in summer I had realized that I am not really good at crafting fictional plots. I tend to use my own experiences and characters I know. That’s why I thought memoirs could be my thing. The class made me understand however that a memoir is more than I thought it would be.
Our classroom was in the Gotham headquarters on the 14th floor of a building on 8th Avenue – in the Garment District. We were 12 students – again 11 women and one man, just like in my last class, about food writing. Is that standard for Gotham’s one-day intensives?
It was a very interesting group of people who all have something to tell, are carrying a story that wants to be told. I guess that’s characteristic for memoir classes. This aspect became very clear when our teacher gave us an exercise. We had to pair with our neighbor and ask her about the most important character in her story. Afterwards we all had the chance to introduce that character to the group. It was absolutely surprising what intimate and striking stories we got. A gay man, who had been sent to a psychiatric treatment to fight his sexual orientation when he served in the army. Two young woman – not knowing each other – who had been adopted from Colombia as babies. A woman whose grandmother was illiterate. I found myself telling my exchange partner very personal things I normally don’t reveal to strangers. But it was such a confident and trustworthy atmosphere. We all were memoir writers.
The quintessential lecture – for me – was about the structure of a memoir. In a memoir a character -the narrator – is on a journey, is pursuing a goal and has to deal with a conflict. In the end the character has changed somehow. That told me that what I am currently writing on, thinking it would be a memoir, cannot be a memoir. It is about something that just happened and affected me. Something I want to remember and share. It was maybe a journey, but there was no goal and no real conflict. I asked the teacher what it could be. She called it a vignette, which could be part of a memoir, together with other vignettes. Ok, so I am currently working on a vignette – even if I never heard that expression in that particular context before. I will go on with it.
Although I had to give up my own understanding of a memoir, the class was very good and definitely helpful. Now I know, what a memoir really is and what is important to make it a good one. I do think I should go on with memoirs. I definitely have stories to tell. I am in one right now. I will read Vivian Gornick’s “The Situation and the Story” next.
On my way home I made a little detour to Rockefeller Center – after grabbing my daily Pumpkin Spice Latte – to finally buy that print for my living room. The ice rink had opened up and quite a lot of people were skating there. The Christmas tree has been set up. It’s not decorated yet, but it is standing.
What I learned today:
Memoir writing is more than just writing down a memory.