Friday, July 10, 2009

notes on spiritual memoirs

INTERN has been plowing through the stack of submissions accrued over her mental health days, and has noticed a lot of memoirs coming in, particularly spiritual memoirs along the lines of "how I found Jesus/Kabbalah/meditation/Scientology and had a deep revelation that changed my life".

Some of these are clearly written by people who experienced or are currently experiencing psychosis or Messianic delusions (and my heart goes out to them), but most of them are written by people who have what psychiatrists call insight (self-awareness, consensus reality...). And to the latter group, INTERN has a few suggestions.

Memoirs are tricky, because they are ostensibly a genre in which you have full license to write about yourself—but if you actually just write about yourself (I I I I I)and presume people will be naturally interested in your doings, you have a really boring memoir.

Spiritual memoirs are even trickier, because you make the bold presumption that people will be interested in the doings of your temporal lobe.

This morning, INTERN has already read through 7 spiritual memoirs whose proposals sound kind of interesting and complex and far-reaching, but then the sample chapters look like a monkey went wild in an "I" factory. "I heard a voice from God, and then I got in my car and drove across 14 states to find the church I had seen in my vision, and when I found it, it was raining heavily and I fell to my knees and wept."

INTERN has said it before, and she'll say it again: you, per se, are not that interesting (neither, for that matter, am I). The fact that you reached enlightenment during a group mud massage class at a commune in San Francisco is not even, necessarily, that interesting. Beautiful, quirky, astonishing writing is interesting. Generous, thoughtful, curious, insightful explorations of a certain theme or relationship or time period are interesting. A series of events that happened to you that you think are interesting are not interesting.

If you can go through your memoir and delete every single reference to yourself, and still have it be a mighty good read, then you're onto something. Memoirs are about the world as much as they about you. At least, INTERN thinks so, although you shouldn't necessarily trust an intern.

In other news, INTERN was running a little late this morning so she jumped onto the elevator instead of taking the stairs. Who should be in the elevator but...Nemesis Intern. We made witty repartee, as you can see below:

Nemesis Intern: "Are your glasses on upside down?"
INTERN: "No."
Elevator: "Ding!"

Have a nice day.

30 comments:

  1. Regarding your line: "the sample chapters look like a monkey went wild in an "I" factory."

    I really think it's time we lay of the monkeys. It seems they are to blame for everything from infiltrating "I" factories to randomly writing the Complete Works of Shakespeare.

    What have monkeys ever done to deserve such maligning... aside from maybe a little innocent poop-flinging?

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  2. Dear Intern:

    Your blog is a gem! I'm so happy to have stumbled upon it (and to have caught it so early in its life).

    Keep it up and best wishes.

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  3. Haha. You are quite right.
    I am not remotely interested in other people's relationships to the Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy etc etc. Other people's dreams , sex life and religions are astoundingly sleep-inducing.

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  4. Nemesis Intern strikes again! You are hilarious. And (I think) insightful. Good work.

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  5. LOL!!! I think the BOYFRIEND better be on the lookout for Nemesis intern since it's my opinion that the same Nemesis intern is showing signs like a seven year old boy pulling the hair of the pretty six year old girl in front of him of being in serious like. In other words, Nemesis intern CRAVES the INTERN.

    Just saying....

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  6. Why do memoirs need to end with enlightenment? Cant we just fall on our face, like usual? We are not perfect and there is no right path. I want to read a wicked funny been there, done that memoire that supports human insanity.

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  7. INTERN,

    You are my first crush in years. And I am not into chicks.

    Thanks for the great blog!

    Cheers!
    Laurel

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  8. Old hippy sayin'... Enlightment follow licking paisley frog!

    Haste yee back ;-)

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  9. I've nominated you for a blog award. Go check it out at: http://ceceliabedelia.blogspot.com/2009/07/blog-award-and-paying-it-forward.html. Great blogging!

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  10. INTERN say:

    -very true, eluper, monkeys do get an undeservedly bad rap. time has come to blame SEA MONKEYS.

    -thank you celi.a. 2 of my favorite things today are kickdrums and plasticised free weights.

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  11. el.oh.el. That was so enjoyable. When will YOUR memoir be out?

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  12. Nemisis intern sounds evil

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  13. Were your glasses really on upside down?

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  14. We, per se, may not be that interesting, but you are.

    May I ghost write your spiritual memoir? ;}

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  15. I love this post -- how lucky to have been tweeted this direction this morning. Nice work, nice humor, and top-notch writing.

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  16. "Nemesis Intern: "Are your glasses on upside down?"
    INTERN: "No."
    Elevator: "Ding!" ?


    -laughing and choking at the same time-

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  17. hilarious, thank you. what i wonder though, unless i'm missing something, is why do certain "memoirists" who go, "I, I, I," all the way home have 4-book deals and huge followings? See: Jen Lancaster.

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  18. You are TOO funny. I'm stalking (I mean following) you now. Hilarious. Keep it up.

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  19. haha, love this! great insights!

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  20. they do pinch the rubber widgets out of windscreen wipers though...(monkeys that is)

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  21. I refuse to kowtow to our monkey overlords. I may genuflect, but... I have an ointment for that.

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  22. I am immediately hooked on this blog!

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  23. Are there any spiritual memoirs you can recommend?

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  24. Woody Allen couldn't write better dialogue.

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  25. Have you ever had someone mad at a rejection because their book was "inspired" and how could you possibly reject it? (LOL)

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  26. Anon: INTERN recommends "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" by Annie Dillard.

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  27. Great post! I am so done with the memoir world right now!

    I am completing final revisions on a memior of my parents, and I fought hard not to get spiritual, instead it's written in Erma Bombeck's style. Now, I'm free to return to fiction! I hope writing memoir hasn't ruined my voice. :)

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  28. My neighbours are sea monkeys and their parties ARE pretty loud.

    Threw away three of my own memoirs some years ago. One was actually sold, too (paid but never produced) - AND I wrote it at age seventeen, AND did most of it by cutting and pasting huge swathes of my own diary. It's weird how it's always the bad stories that sell.

    Oh well.

    Hoping my pirate tales are twice as good, coz there's a lot of them (four books so far).

    Speaking of which...I'm writing a two-month twitter tale beginning this Saturday August 1. Follow me and decide for yourself if I now have another four books to chuck out...
    http://twitter.com/Louise_Curtis_

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