Writing memoir and personal nonfiction always at first strikes me as… indulgent. Like, how dare I presume that anyone else would care about my sad, silly anecdotes about getting lost in London and eating mozzarella sticks out of trash cans? What is the value of this genre for the reader, you know? I know why I write it, I think. I long to make sense and eventually poetry out of the rougher edges of my life. I want to share with you all the best moments, because it makes me happy to recount them.
Tomorrow night I am performing my first ever one-human show and… I’m not terrified. Getting up on stages and spilling my guts is what I do. It’s what I love. It’s what makes me feel alive. So, I’m excited about tomorrow. Possibly ill-prepared, but excited!
But I wonder about the audience. I wonder what they stand to gain from listening to me ramble and warble for twenty pages.
So, I am also a consumer of creative nonfiction. I first got into the genre back in 2006 at the Governor’s Honors Program in Valdosta, GA. We had this one class called “Observational Humor,” where, on the one hand, we listened to a lot of Dane Cook, but on the OTHER HANDS: I read essays by Chuck Klosterman and Sarah Vowell for the first time. My feeble little lit nerd brain was blown. I had no idea you could write like that! That you could thread the needle of telling true stories and entertaining and also, I don’t know, educating even? Because I always felt like I learned something through those essays. In Klosterman’s case, usually about music or the NBA. In Vowell’s case, definitely about American history.
But mostly I learned about the authors and that alone felt really cool. It felt like a privilege to me to get to hear a stranger’s innermost thoughts and feelings. It felt like we were friends.
(I am, if nothing else, eternally thirsty, thirsty, thirsty for friendship.)
That summer session led me David Sedaris, to more stand-up comedy (Maria Bamford and Patton Oswalt first and most importantly), and so on and so on. I started skulking around the tiny little creative nonfiction* section at Barnes & Noble and just picking up any title that sounded interesting. That’s how I found David Rakoff, David Foster Wallace, Samantha Irby (THE ABSOLUTE BEST), and so many more.
(I’m losing the thread here. What was my point? I seldom remember.)
Usually, in my dark depressive moments, I think back on my life so far as this big calamitous failure. That the humor I have to offer is only borne from pain. But as I read my own words this morning, sometimes the funny things were just funny. (Like headbutting a boy while trying to sexy-dance at GHP.) Or sometimes the funny things were just sweet. (Like another boy reciting Romeo & Juliet to me before kissing me the same summer.)
My new therapist observed last Sunday, “It’s very important for you to think of yourself as the hero of your own story.” And, damn, he’s right. I think of every encounter, every beat of my life as a narrative, as a story. It’s so important to me that this story be something meaningful to me, to you, to everyone. Because what’s the point if it doesn’t mean something? If I wasn’t really a hero? If I didn’t help someone else with my words?
But as I consider it… all those authors I’ve previously mentioned, whether they wrote about deep, intense feelings or not… each one of them helped me. I used to spend days, hours, eternities with my nose buried in those books and I was happy. I have so lost sight the past few years of harnessing my own capacity for joy. But I know I was happy when I read those books. I know they contributed to the meaning of my life, no matter the subject matter.
So, if you read this blog, if you’re watching the play tomorrow night: Thank you. I can’t begin to tell you how much this means to me. I hope it’s something nice for you too.
Again, as I read back over my words this morning, what I am struck by is not the sadness or the failure, but the friendships and the triumphs both big and small. Of dreams and determination and laughter and light.
I am more than what I originally presumed.
It is such an honor to get to tell you about it.