“I now” and “I then”

I said I didn’t want to write about my childhood. Not because it was painful or in any way off limits, but I didn’t think there was anything I wanted to say about it. Then a couple of prompts aimed at mining our memories and using all our senses in Kathi Diamant’s memoir-writing class last year hit pay dirt and set me off and running, digging into all that untapped territory. And what came out of it is “Sticks and Stones,” which has been published in the online journal, Writer’s Ink. Read it here.

I’ve been exploring the whole topic of memoir as opposed to autobiography. When I write memoir in the form of a personal essay, “I” am two people. Virginia Woolf called it “I now” and “I then” in “A Sketch of the Past.” I’m the person, now, looking back and writing this essay, and I’m the person, then, about whom I’m writing, the one having those experiences. But something in the story being told has to resonate for “I now,” or why would it pop into my mind at a prompt and why would I bother writing about it? In the course of writing, one revisits memories with new eyes, more analytically perhaps, and takes something away from it that is then reflected back in the memoir: what does this mean to me now?

I don’t go in for writing as catharsis (of the “pity poor me” variety), for healing or revenge, but I can see how attractive it must be for those that do and why memoir is said to be replacing psychoanalysis. But that’s all for now.

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About Alice Lowe

I am a freelance writer, avid reader and Virginia Woolfophile in San Diego, California. I have published essays and reviews about Virginia Woolf, including "Beyond the Icon: Virginia Woolf in Contemporary Fiction," a monograph in the Bloomsbury Heritage Series published in 2010 by Cecil Woolf Publishers, London. My personal essays have appeared and are forthcoming in numerous literary journals and can be followed on my blog: www.aliceloweblogs.wordpress.com.
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