A scuzzy business at best

by Tulasi-Priya on Wednesday 20 June 2012

As soon as you start to leave things out—to shape a tale—you’re maneuvering the actual. Can I tell about the boy who raped me without investigating who may have raped him as a child (data that would certainly spin the moral compass a few degrees at least)? Not without dismantling history. Hence the innate scorn with which memoirists get treated—it’s a scuzzy business at best, displaying your wounds in the marketplace, making close compatriots into “characters.” How dare I? —Mary Karr, via How my old friends felt about my memoir. – Slate Magazine.

She’s got a skin as thick as an East Texas armadillo’s. I admire somebody who can take a shitty childhood and buff it to a high gloss with the shinola of writing. Ultimately, no matter what life hands us, we are answerable for what we do with it. That’s how you dare, Miss Mary.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Auggie June 20, 2012 at 11:36 am

I think memoirists are treated scornfully because people feel judged, and hate to lose a victimization contest. Nothing to do with the memoirists, really. Who are merely novelists with a different name.


Tulasi-Priya June 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I held up my wounded paw the other day at Averil’s blog, and felt icky about it afterward.

Memoirists as novelists: maybe that explains that every time I write something I want to include in a memoir, I veer off into the third person. It doesn’t feel like me any more, it just feels like material. Actually, it always felt like material.

But are memoirists treated scornfully? They seem to get a lot of adulation and press, until they’re proven to be lying sacks of shit.


Auggie June 20, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Maybe I mean that novelists are memoirists.

I think memoirists get a lot of shit. Party because of what I said, partly because they’re largely women (romance authors also get a lot of shit) or men writing in a ‘feminine’ genre. But yeah, if they’re successful they get adulation; everyone successful is adored.

I find lying sacks of shit really relatable.


lisahgolden June 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm

I WISH I had that thick skin. I hide behind what my parents may think, how horrified my children, in-laws and co-workers would be…..

And yet, I know they all have their own secrets. I guess that’s the difference. I see my stuff as stories to tell, they see theirs as something to be kept private.

Damn it.


Tulasi-Priya June 20, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Secrets have a way of not staying secret, no matter how hard we try.


Sarah W June 20, 2012 at 5:34 pm

I wish I could be brave like this . . .


Tulasi-Priya June 20, 2012 at 6:57 pm

»The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much that he can’t get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.« —William Faulkner

Brave? Do we really need more people like that in the world? I’m not even sure I believe that the above is true (though it’s part of our cultural mythos), but if it is, I don’t know if the work such a person produces is worth all the pain it leaves in its wake.


Tulasi-Priya June 20, 2012 at 10:11 pm

That sounded a lot more rant-y than intended.


SparsInShadow June 20, 2012 at 8:34 pm

That’s what writers do all the time, isn’t it? Dare.

I used to want to get all the sides in. I kept hearing from readers how none of it made sense. I know I still want to, but now I see it as a cumulative, lifetime effort that I may never finish. Today I might choose to get my side right. Tomorrow I might try another angle, but if “they” don’t like it, “they” should do what I do — take up the pen and attempt the truth.

Of course, I might see it and be moved to take up my own pen again on the subject, but I think that’s a better way to fight.


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