You all know that I rarely blog. And in fact there have been a couple of worthwhile events from my life I’ve been wanting to blog about–my experience speaking to a group of men at a prison, for example, or my recent road-trip to the Yukon to promote my books. But last night I watched a movie that so drew my ire that said worthwhile topics fell completely by the wayside in favour of a good old-fashioned rant.
Let me begin by saying I was very much looking forward to watching Captain Fantastic for a few reasons–Viggo Mortensen, the obvious connection to my own life, and the fact that many people have reached out to me asking if I’d seen it and what I’d thought of it. In short, this is the story of a couple who take their children to live in the wilderness. When the mother commits suicide in the city, the family returns to civilization for her funeral, supposed harsh awakenings and life lessons. Suffice it to say that by the time I got to the halfway mark, the only reason I didn’t point the remote control at my screen to put myself out of my misery was because I’d decided I was going to blog about it. My main beef with this film was the endless string of cliche’d stereotypes that were so blatant I can only marvel at how such a Hollywoodized piece-of-crap story even saw the light of day. But it did, hitting the exact wrong chord; given the cheap shots at humour and attempts at provoking emotion, I assume it was written as a “Dramedy”, but it managed to be neither funny enough to be a comedy nor thought-provoking enough to be a drama.
So here goes–13 reasons why I hated Captain Fantastic. And yes, it contains spoilers.
- The opening scene. Six kids with muddied faces surround a deer, which the oldest son jumps on and kills with a hunting knife. As a result, Cap pronounces his son no longer a boy but a man. Of all the worn-out, borrowed and tired child-to-adult ceremonial cliches–give me a fucking break.
- The starting a fire scene. Cap makes regular trips to town and makes his phone calls from a cocktail-slinging bar, yet he uses flint instead of matches to start fires. As fucking if. My grandfather would have walked out of the movie right there–his top rules were to never leave home without a packet of waterproof matches, use the most efficient tool available for the task, and most of all to leave your stupidity at home.
- The climbing scene. By my calculation, Cap hasn’t worked in 15 years and doesn’t have enough money to buy groceries (hence the later stealing scene) and yet he and his six children are decked out in full climbing gear. We’re talking thousands of dollars here, but I guess I’m not supposed to notice that.
- The scene where Cap’s 7-year-old kid asks what sexual intercourse is, and Cap readily explains because he believes in telling his children the truth, not shielding or sugar-coating. Then, just to drive his point home, he gives the kid a copy of The Joy of Sex. That’s bad enough in itself, but allow me to enlighten you–if these kids really were living in a one-room cabin with their parents for fifteen years, that child would have perfect first-hand knowledge of what sexual intercourse is. Trust me.
- The scene where they are driving to the city and Cap encourages his kids to “look for game”. The kids then scout out a field of sheep and contemplate taking one down for dinner. They are on a road-trip; just where the hell does he think he’s going to cook and store all that meat?
- When they go to the grocery store, steal a bunch of food, and then celebrate their mother with a lifted chocolate cake topped with sprinkles and whipped cream. Gag me with a frigging dessert spoon–as if a man who won’t let his kids eat a meal in a diner would let them anywhere near such a sugar, food-coloring and preservative-laden work of the devil.
- When the kids have dinner with the family from town and ask how the hosts killed the roast chicken on the table. Get real–just a few scenes before they were all cruising the grocery store aisles.
- The stereotype video-game-obsessed, publicly educated (read:dumb) city kids, conveniently backdropped against Cap’s knowledge-spewing offspring. Assumably, this point is made to inform us that homeschooling is far superior to a formal education. Which leads me another major ass-pick: This dude took his kids off the grid because he believes that’s where they should stay, preserved from the judgments and expectations of society. He is horrified when his oldest son tells him he wants to go to university. And yet you want me to believe he spends hours educating his kids on the finer points of left-wing politics and discoursing on the Bill of Rights? Don’t even bother.
- The scene where Cap hangs out in an RV camp nude, as if he’s ignorant of both indecent exposure laws and basic fucking common sense. Nobody loved nudity more than my grandfather, and he never would have pulled such an asinine stunt.
- The fact that this movie assumes that children are puppets of their parents with no ability to adapt. As someone who struggled really fucking hard to break away from her family’s values and was often made to personify adaptibility, this struck a particularly pissy note with me. With the exception of one rebellious child, the kids in this sorry-assed story accept their father’s teachings without question and go to great lengths to prove that they’re hopeless fish out of water. They take their sleeping bags outside because they don’t want to sleep in their aunt’s house. The oldest boy asks a girl to marry him after they share one kiss. And worst of all, they go around spewing such tired old hippie standbys as “Stick it to the government, stick it to the man”. I literally wanted to cry for the patheticness of it all, even though that isn’t even a word.
- The cliche’d hippie vs. upper-class privileged battle. Cap’s wife was–you guessed it–a lawyer before he swept her off the grid, much to her status-quo upholding parent’s horror. How about some BELIEVABLE people, people?? Oh, right, my bad…because in Hollywood, if you’re not extreme you may as well not exist.
- The scene where Cap leaves his kids behind….OH MY GOD, I’ve said it too many times here but I’ll say it again–AS IF!! Here we are meant to believe that a man who has bucked the system and literally dedicated his entire existence to doing what he thinks is the right thing for his children would leave them behind in the city without a fight because his in-laws don’t agree with his lifestyle? OH MY GOD. The only thing worse than this occurs about two minutes later in the film, when all the kids pop up from a hiding spot under the bus’s floor to surprise him. I can’t even. I just fucking can’t.
- The title, which at no point in the film is explained to the viewer. I then have to assume it was based on the 1960’s British character who, according to Wikipedia, was a “bowler-hatted, plastic-mac wearing and umbrella carrying superhero“. Maybe the connection is obvious to some of you out there who are familiar with this character, but to me it is not. No–I much prefer the title my husband suggested: Bullshit Cliches About Living Off The Grid.
There you have it.
Anyone who’s read my book knows that I’ve spent most of my life rejecting my family’s ways. But I’d like to share a recent experience when trying out one of my grandmother’s routines actually changed my life for the better.
First of all, a note: this blog post is about the weighty issue of weight, and dear readers, I know you are sensitive enough to know there is no judgment here of anyone’s body but my own. Just sayin’ 🙂
I’ve always been a certain weight in my adult life, and I’ve never had to worry about it much. When I was modelling I was never the thinnest model, but I didn’t want or need to be. At 5’11” and 138 pounds, my figure worked well for the kind of modelling I was doing, and everyone was happy, including me. Later, when I got pregnant with my boys and gained 35 pounds with each, I got back to my pre-pregnancy weight within a few months both times. Then I had Ayla. Right away, things were different with my body after she was born. I managed to lose all the weight but the last five pounds—no big deal, I thought, figuring it would come off in time. Instead, it slowly began to creep up. Over the next few years my clothes got tighter, I bought bigger jeans, I went from my usual size four to a six to an eight, and started to dabble in a ten. According to the super-flattering overhead light above my full-length mirror, I had developed neck-to-ankle cellulite. My eating habits hadn’t changed—I’ve always been a pretty healthy eater, with the exception of too many McDonald’s fries and too much wine—and I’ve never exercised much, so, being in my mid-forties, I figured age must be the culprit. Okay, I thought: I need to exercise. With two small children still at home, one at school, and my writing career, life was extremely busy. But when windows of time allowed I tried—home videos, then pilates and dance classes, but my efforts always fizzled out when other, more pressing needs crowded in. Then I tried cutting certain foods out. I tried Garcinia Cambogia and Do Terra Slim ’n’ Sassy essential oils. Nothing made a difference. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see someone who was overweight, but a stranger’s body. I body I never imagined I’d inhabit, that looked nothing like the person I’d always been. In short, I felt nothing like myself.
Out of sheer terror, I refused to step on the scale. Then one day when I was at Science World with my kids, they made me step onto that scale that tells you what your animal weight is. I looked at my animal and wished I could unsee it. I’d always been the equivalent of an aardvark, and now I was…well, whatever the next animal up from that is—I think I blocked it from my mind. But it was then that the truth hit me in the face: I was more than twenty pounds over my regular weight. That’s when I decided that no matter what was going on in my life, I needed to make a change. I asked my husband for an elliptical trainer for my birthday and promptly started on a fitness program. For two weeks, I exercised every weekday, cut my calorie consumption by a third and avoided gluten and most processed foods. And by the end of the two weeks I had lost…nothing. Not a single pound, and not a single centimetre. I felt panic and depression threatening to take over, but I knew there had to be other ways. Then I remembered something my Grandma Jeanne used to do often throughout my childhood and teen years: the “master cleanse”, which involved consuming nothing but a lemonade concoction for a chosen amount of time. I recall seeing her toting her two-litre bottle of brownish liquid around, wondering how she could possibly do anything so boring and dismissing it as just another of my family’s wacky practices. But I also remembered that she always claimed she never felt better than when she was cleansing. So I did some research.
Many of you have probably heard of the master cleanse: it is not intended as a weight loss cleanse, but rather a colon cleanse. However, it stands to reason that if you’re not eating food, you will lose weight. The cleanse is also apparently supposed to “reset” one’s eating habits to healthier foods. Intimidated and more than a little dread-filled, I was nonetheless eager to get going on it. Though you are supposed to “ease in” with a four-day reduced eating plan, I was impatient and decided to get started the next day. My grandmother used to do it for fourteen days at a time; I figured I could probably manage three to five.
Day one started with the recommended salt flush, meant to get your intestines working with the goal of, um, flushing everything out over the coming days. It was godawful—glugging one litre of salty water, during which time I was seriously challenged to control my gag reflex. I managed to get it down, it did its job and I hardly felt hungry for the entire day. On day two I decided to skip the salt water flush and stick with herbal laxatives. I was hungry and edgy, but I’d heard that day two and three were the worst, so I plodded on. One thing that immediately surprised me was the amount of energy I had—indeed, Grandma Jeanne had not been exaggerating. I’d expected to feel shaky and lethargic, but I powered through my days faster and more efficient than ever. As long as I drank my concoctions just as I started to feel hungry, I was fine. Another thing that surprised me was how much more time I had in the day—I’d never given much thought to how much of each day we spend planning, preparing and eating food. By the beginning of day three I’d lost four pounds, so I was encouraged to continue on.
But day three was destined to be my worst. My husband was out of town, so in the late afternoon I decided to take the kids to Whole Foods with the thought that buying them ready-made meals would save me from the torture of cooking. My kids were particularly unruly that day—Ayla started grabbing random things off the shelves and running away with them, usually straight into another shopper’s legs, as if it were some sort of hilarious game; Emerson was screaming that his foot was itchy and started hobbling around the store with one shoe off; Avery pitched a fit because I wouldn’t buy him an entire thousand-dollar hot pizza just for him, and then all of them threw a head-turning tantrum when I wouldn’t buy them Haagen-Dazs bars. Not to mention that everywhere I turned, I saw and smelled something I really wanted to eat. My stomach grumbled, and I realized I hadn’t had a lemonade for over two hours. And so it was that hungry, crampy from taking laxatives, hassled and harried, sweatpants-clad and losing it with my children, I came face-to-face with a woman I hadn’t seen in ages but had known for thirty years. Mind you, we’re talking about someone whose greatest worldly concern is how up-to-the-second her look is, but her reaction was almost comical: she saw me, registered recognition, and then looked away and pretended not to know me! OMG, really? I thought such shallow women only existed on the Real Housewives. When we got home I tried to prepare myself a lemonade, hands shaking like a drug addict desperate for a fix, while simultaneously heating the kids’ dinner and fielding a barrage of demands and requests. I finally burst into tears, which suddenly made them get really quiet. I drank my lemonade in one long gulp, and felt my sanity slowly return.
Day four dawned much better, and my weight was continuing to drop. Not only that, I noticed that my skin looked better than it had in ages, and my eyes clearer. My tongue was covered in a lovely whitish fuzz, an apparent sign of detox. On day five my husband decided to join me on the cleanse, so as a show of support I decided to do the saltwater flush with him. No go—my gag reflex was so bad that I could only get half of it down, and it didn’t do the job it was supposed to. That evening, in the ultimate test, I met two girlfriends for a long-ago arranged dinner that I didn’t want to cancel on. We went to Tavola, of all places, where I sat sipping my lemonade while they ate delicious-looking pasta, wine, and my favourite dessert of sticky toffee pudding. It wasn’t easy, but I never felt tempted in the least to cheat. I decided to stretch my cleanse to seven days.
But lo and behold—when I stepped on the scale the next day–day six–I’d actually gained two pounds back, which momentarily made me want to bawl my eyes out. I got over it, thinking it was probably the failed salt flush storing water in my body. I doubled my water intake that day to sixteen glasses, and by the next morning I’d lost the two pounds plus one more. By my seventh and last day, the cleanse had become such a routine that I would actually call it easy. I could have gone another three days (the maximum recommended time for most people), but I had some social commitments coming up that I wanted to be able to at least eat a carrot stick for.
When you are finished the cleanse, you are meant to “ease out” for four days just as you ease in. This step is crucial to avoid potentially horrendous constipation that can occur if you skip it. This part wasn’t a problem. Before I started the cleanse I’d imagined that I would be dreaming of my favourite foods—pizza, pasta, veggie burgers—and jonesing to eat them when I was done. Not so. I spent the next few days drinking juice and eating veggies, and I didn’t crave my old favourite foods at all. In fact, I almost missed being on the cleanse! I missed the simplicity of not having to make food choices, of knowing I was doing something good for my body, of the energy and lightness that came with it. Don’t get me wrong—I’m happy to be eating again, and I’m even more thrilled to have lost twelve pounds in seven days and most of that depressing cellulite. My eating habits have indeed been reset, and since going off the cleanse I’ve continued to drop more weight. No, it wasn’t easy, but most things worth achieving aren’t–at least in my experience. Trust me, if I can do this, anyone can. I don’t know anyone who loves to eat more than me!
What I’ve learned from this experience is that my confidence is more closely linked to my body image than I would like it to be, and that I just have to accept that as part of who I am. But the cleanse has also benefitted me in ways that aren’t physical. Not eating for seven days felt empowering. I feel in control of my body again, in charge of my life and over my own destiny. I think about everything I put into my body now—and for now at least, I have no desire to eat junk food or drink too much wine at the end of a hard day. It’s a valuable tool in my arsenal for weight loss and kicking unhealthy addictions. I know that I can and will do it again. And most important, I look in the mirror and feel like me again.
So thank you, Grandma Jeanne. 🙂
About five years ago, I read—and was greatly inspired by—Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. Near the beginning, she mentioned appearing in a venue I’d never heard of before: a TED talk. I googled it and pulled Brene’s talk up on YouTube, marvelling at her courage as I watched. At the time, I was about three years into struggling to write my memoir, North of Normal, and the thought of even opening my mouth to utter a birthday speech among friends was enough to set my palms sweating with fear. Literally. How does she do it? I wondered. How can she even keep her voice steady with that many people watching her? What I never could have guessed was this: one day in the not-too-distant-future, I would be called on to speak at this very same venue on the topic of fearless.
I have always been exceptionally terrified of public speaking. It all stems from my childhood, naturally—always feeling like the freaky girl from the wilderness with the ill-fitting thrift-store clothes and ridiculous height, unable to break from my own confident-deficit expectations of myself to allow any value of my experiences to emerge. Whenever life dictated otherwise—wedding speeches, group introductions—insecurity and voice tremors dominated. And then my book came out. Public speaking was celebrated and expected. Suddenly, every fear and illusion I’d had about my own abilities and confidence needed to be examined, and quickly. In my first month of being a published author, I did five TV appearances, seven radio interviews, six book club appearances, and a host of other newspaper and magazine media outlets—and that was just the beginning. But nothing could have prepared me for the experience of speaking for TED.
First off, let’s clarify: my experience was not on the level of Brene Brown’s. While she likely appeared before an audience of thousands, my talk was an independently organized TEDx venue comprised of a couple hundred viewers. By that time, a year after the release of my book, I’d spoken before bigger audiences for corporate events. But that didn’t stop the TED franchise name from both exciting and intimidating me—big-time. When I first got the invitation, I jumped for joy, emailed everyone I knew to tell them the news, and screamed it out on all my social media. Then reality set in: I actually had to create a compelling, ten-minute long presentation, and deliver it onstage without notes. But hey, no worries, right? After all, I do consider myself to be rather fearless, and I often expect the same from others.
Needless to say, I researched. I watched the ten most-viewed TED talks, the ten most inspirational TED talks, the ten best TEDx talks of all time. I got the email address of a fellow TED-talker in my neighbourhood and asked her a million questions. And then I crafted. I power-pointed and edited and regrouped, then I sat on the sofa practicing my talk to myself while my kids looked at me like I was a crazy person. “It’s okay, Mommy’s just practicing saying stuff in front of hundreds of people,” I told them, and then they became interested. It became impossible for me to rehearse without two or three of them running around me asking why I was showing naked pictures of myself or talking about some weirdo on the highway. After so much critiquing from the under-ten set, I had the brilliant idea of inviting my girlfriends over for a “rehearsal party”. I would supply the wine and appies, and they would supply the feedback. Great, right? Right, except my girlfriends happen to be just this awesome: not only did they bring plenty of wine themselves, which resulted in a fun party atmosphere, they brought real feedback that was both supportive and constructive. I’m not sure that I was prepared for it, because the bottom line was this: I had some work to do. Bless them, and bless honesty. I rehearsed about fifty more times before do-day.
I am constantly surprised at the lessons and learning that come my way. Resilience is the buzzword of my life. Two days before my talk, life—and my carefully defined experience of fearless—challenged me in a big way. A small personal crisis that had been brewing for several months exploded. I spent the night bawling my eyes out (and trust me, I’m not much of a cryer) and the day before my talk, I walked around with eyelids so swollen I barely dared leave the house. If my talk would have been that night, I probably would have been forced to cancel, I was that raw and distraught. My whole perspective shifted. I felt like a fraud. How ironic was it, I thought, that I was about to preach about fearlessness when I was suddenly filled with terror. And who really cared about a stupid TEDx talk, anyway, when my family was at risk of falling apart? So I did the only thing I could: I read my presentation over and over again and tried to take my own advice.
The big day came. Caught up in a blender of anticipation and nerves tempered by a huge dose of who-the-fuck-cares, I brought my husband and an A-list girlfriend along for support. I checked in at the venue, met the lovely organizers, and forced myself to focus, forget, and shove aside. For me, the best part of the event was the distraction of meeting and listening to the other speakers. Tori Holmes inspired me big-time with her story of rowing across the Atlantic. Pamela Goldsmith-Jones has become my candidate of choice in the upcoming election. And the last speaker of the night, Anja Novkovic, blew me away with her incredible story told through original poetry. And when it was my turn to walk onstage, I did it. I got up there and did my thing without freezing or blanking out or pacing back and forth too much like I normally do when I’m nervous.
Okay, great. I got through it without throwing up. So what then?
It took three months for my talk to get edited and hit Youtube, and I gazed miserably at the screen when the screenshot first appeared in my inbox. There was a light across my forehead that made me look like I was wearing some sort of weird 80’d headband. And when I watched it, all I could think about was how flat my hair looked, how I’d chosen the wrong outfit, how my slideshow wasn’t visible behind me, how two of my attempts at jokes bombed, how I wished I could do it all over again because I’d been so stressed out in the days before that I hadn’t had time to be concerned with such things. But still, I had done it. Friends and readers of my book watched it and said they were inspired by it. I had conquered one of my greatest fears, and in the process realized that it wasn’t anything compared to my fear of crisis within my family. As had happened so many times before, I had lived the duality of successful creativity flip-sided with challenging life circumstances. For me, the two seem to co-exist without independence.
Now, with the normal pace of life within my family re-established, I once again feel fearless. But I am also certain there was a lesson in the timing of events, and what I’ve come up with is compassion. How often have I felt impatient with people when they told me their stories of feeling fearful? Just move forward and do something, I would think—and don’t get me wrong, this is still the prescription that works for me and what I truly believe in. But with my flawed human-ness brought into full focus over those days, my compassion has been restored, and for that I am grateful. And here’s another lesson that’s almost too perfect: Brene Brown’s book, the very one that started this journey for me, teaches the power of embracing our vulnerability–and it was my very own TEDx experience that really brought that home for me.
So. Go fearlessly, but never be ashamed to admit your fear when it gets the best of you. And then…move forward. 😉
PS Here’s the talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzueNiggMSQ
I am sitting on my sofa doing nothing. For the first time in what feels like years, I find myself with an hour in front of me that is not appointed to the care of children, housework, shopping, emailing, cooking, promoting my book, or the myriad other activities that make up the daily life of this mom, wife, friend and writer. Ten minutes ago, my husband took the kids on a bike ride and instructed me to enjoy some time to myself. I waved goodbye, went into the house, and, instead of rushing headlong into my next task as per my usual routine, I found myself just standing there not knowing which direction to go. I sat down and promptly got the hiccups. My mind raced. Should I read a book? No, the one I started a few days ago just hasn’t grabbed me. Call a friend? I’m all caught up with everyone. Update my website? Did it last week. Check my email? I just hit refresh for the third time, and obviously no one is urgently trying to reach me. And with that, the inevitability of a singular fact fills my head and causes my stomach to flop over in dread: It is time to get back to writing. Ugh.
Of course I love writing. It is my creative outlet, a main source of my fulfillment and purpose, and now I’m even lucky enough to call it my vocation. It’s been five months since North of Normal was released. I’ve had the publicity flurry, the meaningful exchanges with readers, the book club barrage, the literary festival invitations, and the thrill of seeing my book on the bestseller list for nine weeks. In short, many of the dreams I had about my first book have come true, and I’m incredibly grateful. But the party is drawing to a close, and I know it’s time to get back to work. Though I’ve begun my second book, I haven’t worked on it in nearly a year, and fear abounds. I’m afraid that I’ll reread what I’ve written and hate it; that my writing talent has deserted me; that my second book won’t live up to the first; that I won’t be able to sell another manuscript. So rather than face the music I just sit here, hiccupping away as I complete the last task I can justify before opening the dreaded Book #2 file on my laptop: writing a long-overdue blog entry. So here it is. To all the wonderful friends and family who have championed my book over the past months, to the many awesome new friends I’ve met through book clubs, social media, parties and appearances on behalf of my book, thank you to the ends of the earth for your support and encouragement. I will write a second book. It will be just as good as my first. And I’m going to get on it right this minute.
Just as soon as I get these darned hiccups under control, that is. And maybe by then the kids will be home, with their strangling hugs and boisterous yelling and requests for snacks and boo-booed knees to attend to.
Here’s hoping… 😉
Yesterday, as I added my book trailer to my Facebook page, I reflected on the collaborative effort it took to create it. The fact is, if it weren’t for my friends, this project wouldn’t have seen the light of day.
I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to spend money on services. I need a website? I buy the software and figure out how to build one. The basement needs to be drywalled? I drive to Home Depot and corral the sheetrock salesman. So I thought making a short, snappy, enticing trailer for my book would be a breeze. Wrong. After a month of toiling on amateur software, trying to do voiceovers while the kids screamed in the background, and badgering my husband to interview me on camera “just one more time”, I finally produced a piece that rose just slightly above the point of being embarrassing. The first person I showed it to was my close friend Shannon, because as an in-demand reality TV producer (Dr. Phil, The Real Housewives, Love it or List it, etc), I knew she’d be discerning. And discerning she was. After sitting through it quietly, she turned to me and said sweetly, “Um…it’s good. But you know, this is what I do, so…” Right. She promptly offered to help me, and a week later I was sitting on a chair being interviewed by her under her Director of Photography husband’s amazing lighting. Between the two of them, they managed to make me look like I was telling all for 20/20. Bless their talented souls, and talk about true friends.
Next up was editing. Feeling like I’d taken up enough of Shannon and Josh’s time, I assured them I’d have no problem putting it all together on iMovie. Two weeks later, the result looked like some bush-league chop-job done by a talent-free film student. Shedding my pride, I showed my masterpiece to my amazing friend Nicole, actor and voiceover artist extraordinaire. She smiled politely and offered to run it by it to her husband (and my friend) Chris, a super-talented film editor and music composer. “It’s good!” he said brightly on the phone that evening. “It’s just that, well, this is what I do, so…” Right. Once again, my butt was saved when he swooped in, took over my files, rejigged them and laid down his awesome music in the background. Add Nicole’s voiceover coaching, and the end result is something I am truly proud of.
Many times over the years, I have been humbled by my friends’ generosity. There’s my longest-time girl Carleigh, who befriended me on my first day of fifth grade and has stood by me through some of my worst moments. She and her husband even gave me their second car for six months after I got divorced and was flat broke; how’s that for true friendship? And then there’s Heather, a modeling compatriot from when I first arrived in Europe, who took me under her wing and taught me to spread my own–one of the first people who I felt truly believed in me. Suzana, another modeling bestie who used to look after my cat whenever I went out of town, and who now flies halfway across the globe to visit me and fawn over my children. Jenn, who helped me close a business deal just days after I met her when she learned how desperately I needed it at the time. Dianne, who took an interest in my book and wouldn’t let me give up, introducing me to people who were key to my getting it published. Wendy, Traci, Tracy, Tracey, Susan, Cynthia, Janet, Amanda B, Amanda T, Debra, Lisa, Meghan, Jenny, Michelle…the list goes on and on. Each of these amazing women, and many more who are either new to my world or were once a bigger part of my daily life, have contributed the most generous gift there is: their time and conversational skills.
Which brings me to this: if you are one of these friends and are reading this now, I want you to know that I appreciate your support at this time in my life more than ever. As I stand just weeks away from achieving my lifelong dream of publishing my book, I ask you to please forgive my temporary self-involved state–my book, my life, blah blah blah… It’s not like me, you all know that, but this is my year and I have to live this wholly and completely. You all are the family I always wished to have.
Okay, now enough about you and back to me. Here’s the book trailer:
I don’t take near enough pics of my friends. Here’s one from a couple years back.
Often, when I tell people that I’ve written a memoir about my childhood, I get this reaction: “A memoir? I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night. How do you remember allthat stuff?”
The truth that is I don’t, exactly. Memoir is a complex art, a tapestry woven of personal memories, stories from family members and friends, reminder cues from old photographs, and yes, fiction. Don’t get me wrong–a memoirist’s story is defined by its true-to-life accuracy, but many of the details of it are made up. In fact, an excellent memoir reads just like a novel because it draws on the storytelling tools of fiction. Setting, dialogue, weather, time of day–often it is impossible for the writer to recall these fine details, but they are needed to build the richness and, ironically, the credibility of the story.
I’ve always said that I don’t have the imagination to write fiction, and that is the truth. I have nothing but admiration for such writers, who are able to pull fascinating characters and original plots out of thin air. But memoir writing comes with its own challenges–namely, that you don’t have the convenience of making up events or characters to suit your story. You owe it to your readers, your publishers, and yourself to be as honest and transparent as possible. But there is a vast difference between a fabricated story being passed off as a memoir and using novelistic techniques to tell a true story. The former is a blatant lie or bending of the truth, while the latter is a fusion of honesty and creativity designed to open the writer’s world to the reader. My own writing process goes something like this: Let’s say I’m writing a scene about having a fight with my mother. First, I put myself back into the moment. I know that I was living in Calgary at the time, that I was thirteen, and that the argument was about her boyfriend. I recall that it was daytime and in the summer. From these facts, I build a scenario. Calgary is mostly sunny, so I write about the sun streaming through the windows as we scream at each other. Since I was thirteen, the year was 1983, so I write about the Swatch watch I was wearing. I think about the words we exchanged, remembering only the most important lines, and build on our dialogue from there–knowing what her tone of voice would be and the slang I would use as a teenager. Lastly, I find a way to connect this scene to the one following. And there you have it–the complete truth of recall, decorated by the brush of imagination and probability to create a complete scene.
I look at memoir writing like growing a tree. The solid trunk is the fact or event I am writing about. The branches are the connections to the rest of the story, and the leaves or needles are the details that, in most cases, can’t possibly be remembered. One of my biggest writing struggles was finding a narrative arc to my story. Real life, with its random happenings and less-than-ideal timing, does not provide this on its own. Add that to the fact that my early years were so chaotic–I often lived in a given place no longer than a few weeks or months at a time–and chronological ordering became truly daunting. Many times, I found myself sitting at my laptop, rubbing at a well-worn spot between my eyes as I attempted to organize and filter the many interesting and dull events in my life into a story that made sense, had meaning and would keep the reader engaged. My breakthrough only came when I was able to move beyond my preoccupation with writing about the trunk and allowing myself to focus on the branches and needles. I discovered that the networks between my story blocks were all there on mycomputer screen–they just had to be connected properly. A connection can be as simple as a tangible item carried throughout childhood, a remembered dream, or a second or third meeting with someone important to the story. After that, the needles on my tree are easy–and fun–to fill in.
In memoir writing, constant decisions need to be made about what, who and when to write about, but the most important is the how to write it. Our earth holds many trees–evergreens, deciduous, fruit, nut, weeping and sky-reaching. The how is the tree one chooses to grow through storytelling. During the writing process for my own memoir, I grew and subsequently chopped down five or six different trees before settling on the right one. In other words, the truth of a life story may take many forms depending on the way one chooses to write about it. My first draft was a chronological tale written from an adult’s perspective. Another began with the present and flashed intermittently back to the past. A more recent one had emails to my mother beginning each chapter. In the end, I settled on a chronological telling of my story from a child’s perspective, morphing into a teen’s and adult’s perspective as the story progressed. All of these versions told the truth, but they were very different accounts of one story. You get my point: memoir is stylized truth that, at its best, fuses a creative blend of honesty, intimate perspective, and timeless beauty.