Follow These Rules and Live

Is your life gothic or epic or merely suburban?

Is your life gothic or epic or merely suburban?

Miles I ran today: 4.5

Temperature when I ran: 69

Excellent memoir I just beta-read: 1

[Content of conversation below may have been altered to suit my needs. Sorry, Mom.]

Setting: The mid-’90s

Me: Mom, why didn’t you do some horrible thing in my childhood so I could write a best-selling memoir? You gave me no material. Couldn’t you have beat me up a little bit?

Mom: You were obnoxious enough for me to think about it. Several times.

Me: But by having self-control, you have left me with nothing. Nothing. To. Write. About.

Mom: I weep for you.

Back in the ’90s, there was a rash of tragic, horrible, tell-all books about alcoholic parents and people chasing other people with scissors and heroin overdoses and running away from home.

It was enough to make any writer feel a bit, well, under-prepared for writing a best-selling memoir. Or anything that anyone might want to read.

But then, a gift:

At least one of those writers lied. Big time.

And then another gift:

Elementary school teachers started teaching about writing in terms of “small moments.”

And then another gift:

Blogs.

All of us who had childhoods full of homemade cake and Atari and mean words from other kids but no near-death experiences were given the opportunity to write for other people who were A-okay reading about the Little Things In Life.

Writers like Elizabeth Berg flourished.

There is a small moment in her collection of short stories, The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted, when the main character (MC) and her husband are preparing for their grown kids to come over for Thanksgiving dinner. The MC sees a small stain on the crotch of her husband’s khakis, and she is annoyed by it because (and I paraphrase) “we all know what that is.”

I must have read that part 12 times for the sheer genius of it.

And as my husband pointed out, there are dozens of small moments in Gone Girl. It’s like a writer’s workshop of how to incorporate details without overwhelming the reader.

He re-read me a sentence where author Gillian Flynn writes about the torn felt of a mini-golf hole, which allows the reader to fill in the rest of the scene. She doesn’t need to tell us that the mini-golf building has crumbling paint or that the plastic palm trees have torn places.

Today, after spending my early adulthood wondering if I had any scrap of material to write about, I see material everywhere.

Like last weekend.

We got out from under the evil clutches of the cable company and bought an antenna for our TV.

Victory!

I was wandering around the house a few days later, picking up miscellaneous bits and pieces and relocating them to the trash can, when something caught my eye, typed in all caps on the antennae instructions:

Follow These Rules and Live.

Somewhere, there is a technical writer with a sense of humor in the face of boring material.

And I want to thank her for the name of my future memoir.

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