I considered, disassembled and rejected a story idea today…I have the vague concept that I want to write science fiction, but it turns out that doing that requires some thought. I did have an interesting idea, looking at the evolution of higher education…but it all fell apart when it turned out that someone would need to actually be interested in reading it. Oh well. Turns out that grabbing a reader is harder when you first have to make things up in some sort of convincing manner.
What causes the most honest reflection for me these days is thinking about my past. There was some high drama in my high school days, not to mention an odd amount of nostalgia for what amounted to a pretty shitty time in my life. I think what it comes down to is that possibility is intoxicating, and thinking about where you used to be is thinking about all the potential that existed in that previous moment. When I think about my junior and senior years of high school, what I’m really thinking about is sexual awakening, and the absolute headrush that comes with being a male who is for the first time using your body as your hormones intended. The irony here is that virtually everything about my life now is better, in a quantitative sense, than it was when I was 17. I have a ton more money, immeasurable independence, I have better sex with my prettier girlfriend, and hell, my car is way cooler. But that’s all essentially irrelevant. You will never forget losing your virginity, even though for most (and certainly for me) it will be among the worst sex you ever have. You will never forget your first car. You will certainly never forget your first kiss.
And that’s why memoir intrigues me. The heightened emotional state and heightened drama of my life during that period could, with a deft hand, make for some interesting reading. And even if it doesn’t, I feel that there will be a level of emotional catharsis that will come from getting these words on the page. Because at that time in your life, every slight and every nod goes straight to your core. The best and worst thing about high school is that you’re given emotional freedom to obsess over stupid shit. And ultimately, the problem is that when you look back on it, everyone else is obsessed with stupid shit too. The first time I ever kissed a girl in high school, she freaked out and nearly never spoke to me again. Looking back on it now, a decade later, first I can laugh. That’s important. But second, I have perspective. It’s unfair to judge anyone by what they do in high school. We were all shitheads back then, regardless of how well-intentioned we may have been. The problem with that is that though the gesture can’t be taken seriously, the emotions at the time were. It sucks, but we’re all affected by the actions of the shitheads we inevitably had to know in high school.
At this point in life, catharsis is the only logical action. I would be a hypocrite to judge someone based on their 16-year old self. But when I try to examine my own 16 year old self through my current lens, it offers a degree of understanding, and maybe even closure. That might be pushing it.
I’ve been fascinated with memoir when my friends have written it…their stories caught me because often I was either in them, or at the periphery. Using other people to stimulate my own recall usually has evoked a strong response within myself.
That being said, I don’t know why anyone who doesn’t know me would read any of my recollections about adolescence…when it came to my friends’ writing, I realized the same…if it weren’t for the recall, the familiarity, I don’t know why it would be interesting.
I don’t know the answer to making a memoir universally resonant. Some have done it; though my key example of that, Augusten Burroughs’ Running With Scissors, appears to be somewhat fabricated and sensationalized. Still, fake or not, he made me care about him as a character. I don’t believe I can do that for my adolescent self.
But that’s the rub, really…understanding what would make my own stories compelling is an intermediate point to making the stories of a completely fictional character compelling. As I wrote about before, the missing piece to my fiction attempts has been characters that a reader cares about. So maybe figuring out how to make a reader give a fuck about me is easier than making someone up, and then having to make a reader give a fuck about them.
Regardless, I will try my hand at some memoir-style writing. It will certainly be self-indulgent, as ultimately it’s my catharsis. But let’s see what I can do to actually make it interesting. It would be a good intermediary challenge…even if some of my ideas for stories are good, none of them will go anywhere unless I can populate them with at least a couple characters people care about.