January roundup: love and memoir

It’s ten degrees celsius in Vancouver and today I saw a woman drive through the alley behind my apartment in a sea-foam green convertible with the top down. Convertibles tend to stand out in a city where most people buy rain tires, but what made the woman particularly remarkable was her chinchilla fur hat and her passenger: a chihuahua in a chihuahua-sized baby blue Snuggie®. His erect posture and casual gaze made the dog look like he was accustomed to being chauffeured and the two of them made a funny picture idling beside the butcher-shop dumpster.

In my Vancouver literature class, my students and I have been talking about Vancouver as a postcard city, and the discrepancy between the real and the ideal. The woman in the convertible struck me as someone who somehow hadn’t noticed she was in the city of gore-tex and yoga pants and Subarus, a character in a story set in a different Vancouver than the one I live in. It was a few hours later that I wondered if anyone who writes about her own life can really criticize someone for making herself a character (even if said character purchases dog Snuggies). If nothing else, the book I’m writing is about my inherent tendency to narrate my life as a way of making some larger meaning out of it.

postcard city

postcard city

With that in mind, here’s your late January early February (I’m behind) round-up of love and memoir:

  • I really love this essay in Modern Love about the postcard kiss and the difficulty of letting a good story be nothing more than a good story:

He walked me to my car, and we kissed in the parking garage, under orblike yellow lights. It was a still kiss, a postcard kiss, a Disney princess kiss, the kind of kiss that makes blue cartoon birds chirp and swirl in the sky, their beaks holding garlands.

And this is exactly where the story should end. It should cut to credits, and the music should be triumphant but soft. Your last image should be of the young girl and the handsome poetry-writing boy frozen in a movie kiss. You should brush the popcorn off your lap and leave the theater smiling because everything worked out the way you knew it would. You can leave remembering that time when you were young and lovely, and things like that could happen.

(From “When the Words Don’t Fit” by Sarah Healy)

  • I’m of two minds about this article by Susan Shapiro, “Make Me Worry You’re not Okay”. I agree with her criticism:

The biggest mistake new writers make is going to the computer wearing a three-piece suit. They craft love letters about their wonderful parents, spouses, children and they share upbeat anecdotal slices of life.

Upbeat anecdotal slices of life are bland and offensive–no one should ever have to read them. But I have some reservations about how she conflates feature journalism with memoir, and about her claim that “the first piece you write that your family hates means you found your voice.” I just don’t buy it. As Annie Dillard says in “To Fashion a Text”: “The writer of any work, and particularly any nonfiction work, must decide two crucial points: what to put in and what to leave out.”

Writing thoughtfully and maintaining relationships with friends and family don’t have to be mutually exclusive (though I understand there are times when they are). I guess what really gets at me about Shapiro’s article is that it oversimplifies memoir and plays into the genre’s reputation as tittilating, narcissistic navel-gazing–and I want more than that from within our ranks. The best personal writing is often bravely honest, but is that the same thing as spilling one’s sordid confession onto the page? I’m not sure that Shapiro intends to promote a dear-diary approach to memoir, but many commenters seem to be reading it that way.

She radically (re)defines love as a “micro-moment of positivity resonance.” It doesn’t quite sound magical in such clinical terms, but I’m intrigued by her ideas–and by how much they seem to depart from other biochemical approaches to the topic:

Love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—any other person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day. You can experience these micro-moments with your romantic partner, child, or close friend. But y ou can also fall in love, however momentarily, with less likely candidates, like a stranger on the street, a colleague at work, or an attendant at a grocery store.

This approach doesn’t account for things we typically imagine falling within love’s scope: unrequited love, long distance love, love for our pets. But it might explain why when you meet someone you really like, you want to see them all the time. I suspect there’s a lot more to say about Fredrickson’s research, so I’m going to think on it a bit more, talk with my social psychology friends, and get back to you.

In the meantime, I leave you with Whitney (or a link to Whitney since wordpress now charges $60 to embed videos) who, if we believe Fredrickson, has been asking the wrong question all along:


How will I know if he really loves me?

1 thought on “January roundup: love and memoir

  1. Pingback: “Your Story is Not New”: On attending a memoir retreat | the love story project

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