virtualDavis

\ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs\ Blogger, storyteller, flâneur. G.G. Davis, Jr's alter ego…
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Photo of the Week?

Rosslyn Boathouse: photo of the week?

Rosslyn Boathouse: photo of the week?

This is your last chance to fuel my ego! Until next time…

This ominous photo of Rosslyn boathouse is in the running for Instacanv.as‘s Photo of the Week and your vote could be the tipping point.

The photo was a spontaneous iPhone-born Instagram post that I shared right after Hurricane Isaac passed through Essex, New York. (Remember Hurricane Isaac? It’s gotten difficult to keep them all separate, and to think that only a few years ago we figured hurricane troubles were about the last problem we needed to worry about in the Adirondacks.) If you’re interested in the rest of the back story for this image, check out “Photo of the Week: Hurricane Isaac”.

Voting ends today, so if you’re feeling generous, supportive or just a little wild, please consider voting and/or sharing this post with your friends. I’d love to see this photo featured. Thanks for your help. Vote HERE.

And, if you’re feeling inspired (and I hope that you are because a Monday without inspiration is deadly!) feel free to share your own personal Photo of the Day in the comments below. I’d love to see what cool pics you’re hiding on your mobile phone.

Rosslyn Redux: May Update

I’ve been a little more quiet than usual during the last month, and I hope that you’ll forgive the frequent ellipses. I’ve shifted gears to focus on a steady stream of Rosslyn programming over at the Rosslyn Redux blog. This has been a great way to funnel my blogging energy during the revision process…

Sally Lesh & Hyde Gate “One of the unanticipated joys of living at Rosslyn (aka Hyde Gate) has been discovering the property’s legacy… One recent reminder was the first chapter of All My Houses in which octogenarian Sally Lesh chronicles her itinerant life story by way of the many homes in which she has resided… Lesh opens the memoir with her birth on Janurary 19, 1921 in Boston, but the title of her first chapter and the origin of the journey she intends to chronicle is Hyde Gate, Essex, New York…”

Hail Storm & Apple Tree “An ancient and neglected apple tree… For six years I pruned and nourished the crab apple tree back to health… then the clouds erupted in a short but angry tantrum of driving rain, mothball-sized hail and driving wind. When the hail and rain stopped and the fog cleared, the crooked fruit tree had fallen, snapped off at her stem.” (video eulogy)

2011 Lake Champlain Flood Retrospective “Rosslyn boathouse is dry. Lake Champlain water levels are low. Our waterfront weathered winter — what winter there was — and spring without incurring the destructive flooding which tormented us a year ago… But all is not forgotten. Fully half of Rosslyn’s waterfront, maybe more, remains a boulder piled mess. Thousands of pounds of stone rip-rap installed last spring to stabilize NYS Rt. 22 buried two hundred year old cut stone retaining walls.”

Mary Wade’s Rosslyn “Each winter Essex residents celebrate the holidays early during a weekend-long event called Christmas in Essex. It was this tradition which connected me to Mary Wade, a folk artist who lives in Willsboro but runs a seasonal gallery in Essex each summer. She creates painted wooden models, silhouettes and paintings of historic buildings in Essex that are collected by her fans all around the world.”

Rosslyn Unplugged “Yesterday, Thursday, May 15, 2009 was windier than a subway median at rush hour. Lake Champlain wind blasts reached 50 mph. The forecast had threatened gusts up to 90 mph. The rain drizzled off and on all day, but the fellow building the stone wall near the mud room stuck it out and got the job done.”

Just Google it! “I collaborated with John Brookhouse of 1o’Clock Multimedia on this “long winded” but amusing Google Search vignette which was part of Redacting Rosslyn v1.0 at The Depot Theatrein Westport, New York in August 2011. Although I concepted the content and story arc, and even most of the search queries, Brookhouse was the video maestro who morphed my vision into a far more creative story than I could have managed on my own.

Fox & Squirrel Revisited “At the end of April I posted about a fox that was frequenting Rosslyn to grab a quick squirrel breakfast or supper whenever the urge struck him… Although the fox seems to have moved on, his apex predator slot was quickly filled by an always hungry hawk who’s dietary preferences run to dove rather than squirrel…”

Just Google it? “This video is one of several exploratory forays into the Google Search vignette I included in my Redacting Rosslyn v1.0 performance last August at The Depot Theatre in Westport, New York. Blending readings from my Rosslyn Redux manuscript with oral and digital storytelling, the event was a collaborative attempt to animate type, words and documents into interactive narrative.”

Rifle & Eggs “‘Mornin’,’ Wes said as he pulled the pantry door shut behind him and greeted Griffin with a scratch behind the ears. ‘Good morning,’ I called back from the kitchen where I was scrambling eggs. ‘You don’t want me to run that thing on the tennis court, do ya?’ he asked…”

Excavating Rosslyn “‘I look at it as an excavation, if you will,’ says the architect… Pete Lackey of Charles Myer and Partners in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is referring to “taking the long view” on renovation, specifically to reawakening the heart and soul of a building instead of willfully or inadvertently altering it… In our case, understanding Rosslyn involved literally and figuratively excavating the historic home.”

Rosslyn Roundup, May 4 “It’s time… to share everything Rosslyn-related that I didn’t get a chance to post over the last few weeks. Champlain Valley springs are unpredictable and exciting, sometimes arriving early (this year) and other times hiding behind rain, rain, rain (last year)…”

Rosslyn Rattlesnake “Have you ever ever heard of an Eastern massasauga rattlesnake? Or a Sistrurus catenatus? … As unlikely as it may seem, I now suspect that I may have spotted a massasauga rattlesnake with markings totally unlike our local Adirondack timber rattlesnakes.”

Orchard Rumination “Lately I’ve been reflecting on all the trees I wish I’d planted in the fall of 2006 and the spring of 2007. We’ve been adding new trees for a year now — a half dozen or so each spring and fall — and yet I can’t help but imagine what might be today if I’d started earlier. Fruit trees ten or twelve feet tall would still be blooming. We would have been harvesting apples and pears and plums and apricots and peaches for a couple of seasons by now…”

Reawakening Rosslyn “‘Rather than trying to coerce the house to do something new, we tried to reawaken it.” In Taking the Long View Paula M. Bodah refers to the renovation of a Victorian house near Boston, Massachusetts in unusually anthropomorphic terms… Despite the unfamiliar reference, Bodah’s terminology is precise, accurate and familiar. In the case of Rosslyn, reawakening is precisely how I describe our renovation process, though I didn’t understand this at the outset.”

In been a prolific blogging stretch at Rosslyn Redux and a meager stretch here. Sorry. Perhaps I’ll do a better job of balancing in the future?

Productivity, Publishing & Apex Predators

Amazon is going to destroy the Big 6, destroy bookstores, destroy 95% of all agents, destroy distributors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor), and revolutionize the publishing industry by becoming the dominant force… Blaming Amazon for your eventual downfall is like blaming a lion for being king of the jungle. (Joe Konrath)

The Chama River Canyon Wilderness. Scull Bridg...

The Chama River Canyon Wilderness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m graced with one more week writing with Benedictines and coyotes in a desert canyon. What a life! It’s hard to believe that almost three weeks have already flowed past with the burbling Chama. Productive time, but it’s passed in a blur. Twelve to fifteen hours of writing, rewriting and editing every day except except for Saturday. Yesterday was an exception. I cut out late in the afternoon and drove in to Santa Fe to celebrate a friend’s birthday. An inspired and inspiring evening with new and old friends. When asked which of the trails I’d hiked and ruins I’d explored during my stay in Abiquiu I surprised myself by responding, “None.” Not a single adventure! And despite the missed opportunities (fortunately I’ll be back), I was amazed to realize that I’ve actually managed to stay focused and on task. Totally on task! For a change.

That said, there’s still ample toil ahead. I habitually underestimate how much time projects will take, but I have the growing sense that one of the lessons I’m meant to learn during this sequestered month is to let go. To find closure. To move on. And with the storytelling and publishing worlds evolving faster than ever in history, I’m accepting that it’s critical to launch Rosslyn Redux and move on the the next project and the next and the next. Time. To. Move. On.

Time will tell whether Joe Konrath‘s much cited assessment of Amazon’s role in the future of the publishing industry above is clairvoyant or bluster. But the lesson isn’t just in his bold prediction. The lesson is in the jungle. And the harsh desert. And I’m learning to listen… Not just to the coyotes who sing outside my window each night. But also to the muddy old Chama.

Ol’ man river,
Dat ol’ man river
He mus’know sumpin’
But don’t say nuthin’,
He jes’keeps rollin’

He keeps on rollin’ along.

A quick post before I wind my way back into the Chama canyonlands. Thanks for your indulgence over the last few weeks. Anticipate me back to my noisy self in April. Cheers!

Rosslyn in the Desert

Frosty Morning in Abiquiu, New Mexico

Frosty Morning in Abiquiu, New Mexico (Photo credit: Princess Stand in the Rain)

As of tomorrow I’m at the halfway point for my desert retreat in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Eleven days in; eleven days to go. That’s 12+ hours/day, six days a week editing, revising, shuffling and rewriting. In silence. Without interruptions or distractions. Without internet access. Without excuses!

It’s been a productive stretch despite the fact that my manuscript is still bloated and desperate for a liposuction/stomach staple two-for-one… But I’ve discovered the heart and soul of my story, and the next two weeks I’ll perform ruthless, unsentimental surgery, cutting away all nonessential narrative. With luck and endurance I’ll return from the desert at month’s end with a svelte memoir.

I spent the first week focusing on the most enjoyable sections, and last week I dug into the darker sections. Death, depression, failures, violations. It was a tough week. A proverbial roller coaster ride. More like a bucking bronco ride. I’m feeling whiplashed and bruised today, but licking my wounds in Santa Fe.

Each Saturday I’ve driven two hours from the Chama canyonlands to the city where I lived from 1996-9. I re-provision, de-soil my laundry and pig out on delicious New Mexican food. And after a week without telephone or internet access, I spend hours on the phone with my amazing bride. My generous, understanding bride who’s tolerating my time at the hermitage. I offer my deepest gratitude to this woman who transformed my world over a decade ago, the woman who’s allowing me to share our sometimes beautiful, sometimes disturbing and always intimate story.

Thanks also to the Benedictines for use of their handsome hermitage and to my colleagues at The Depot Theatre and Champlain Area Trails for letting me vanish for sooooo long. The last couple of weeks have reminded how much I love Scrivener, so thanks to the good folks at Literature and Latte for simplifying my work on Rosslyn Redux. And thanks to all of you who’ve encouraged and pushed me. Now it’s time to jump in my jalopy and head back to the desert for another productive week. Cheers!

Monday Morning Meander

English: Meander on the River Dee just west of...

Monday Morning Meander (Image via Wikipedia)

My Mondays typically are energetic, frenetic, anxious. All weekend I’ve been building up To Do lists and massaging my timelines, and by the time I crawl out from under the comforter to share breakfast with Griffin, my Labrador Retriever, my mind is already off to the races.

I suspect that there’s a Monday Morning archetype with lots of other caffeinated-before-your-caffeinated folks who know exactly what I’m talking about. Which validates my suspicions that we all need to break pace for a few moments and meander to refresh the dreams and go juices. If you’re understanding me so far, this post may be for you. Let’s meander together for a few minutes before we pull back into heavy traffic or return to slaying dragons or charming venomous snakes.

Are you social? Digitally social? Plenty gab to be had of late regarding merits and demerits of social networks, but GigaOm‘s recent post, “Do authors have to be social? No, but it helps.“, is worth a look.

Mat Johnson described the people he follows on Twitter as his “dream party guests — interesting strangers whose wit keeps me coming back.” But Johnson also put his finger on another reason that some authors like him have taken to social media like Twitter: the ability to connect directly with potential readers. As he put it: “I’ve never had a single ad for any of my novels, had a movie made or been given a big budget push by a publisher. Usually, they just throw my book out to reviewers and hope it floats. Twitter lets me hijack the promotion plane, sidestep the literary establishment and connect directly to my current and potential audience… It’s a meritocracy; if you’re interesting, you get followed.” (GigaOM: Tech News and Analysis)

I’m borrowing Johnson’s Twitter/dream party guests analogy the next time I try to explain the joys of skinny dipping in the tweet stream to a perplexed (or dismissive) audience. And while I’m thinking about dream party guests, what happened to Kevin Smokler? Was he abducted by aliens? Or is he just giving kevinsmokler.com a fall/winter rest. Back in the spring?

@ This is why we need your #TED talk. Tyler Cowen takes a cynical, skeptical look at stories http://t.co/413wn3jy #gagreflex
@karlsprague
Karl Sprague

Are you familiar with narrative pollyannaism? Fellow optimist Karl Sprague just introduced me to its antithesis, died in the cloth story skepticism. Economist Tyler Cowen’s TEDxTalk distills the dark, devious, dangers of storytelling in his warning, “Be suspicious of stories“.

Cowen admits a weakness for compelling narratives, but he’s concerned that stories oversimplify our messy lives. He reminds us that stories distort complex human nature, interactions and institutions potentially misguiding us and fueling bias and self-deception.

He’s right, of course.

As Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics at George Mason University and co-author of economics blog Marginal Revolution and an avalanche of economics books, Cowen is right about a lot. And despite taking a few laps to warm up, his dry, self-deprecating sense of humor prevails, gradually softening his admonition. And his nod to Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s Living to Tell the Tale ultimately won me over.

“Life is not what one lives, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Stories do distort and oversimplify. But so do street signs, the nightly news, education, modern medicine, music and virtually every other human invention. His bottom line?

Be more comfortable with messy. Be more comfortable with agnostic…” (TEDxTalks)

I can live with that.

And what better way to wrap up than a digital recap of Sunday’s meander? Yesterday John Davis (@trekeast) and I escaped with our brides and progeny for a Parch Pond adventure. This Eddy Foundation wilderness holding includes a handsome pond which was frozen and snow-free, perfect skating. Here’s a clip shot by Mr. TrekEast on his iPhone:

For additional images from the outing, check out “Skating Parch Pond“.

2012 New Year’s Resolutions

English: Two New Year's Resolutions postcards

Resolutions (Image via Wikipedia)

Cheers to a razzle-dazzle 2012! I’m saluting the new year with a confession: I failed my top resolution for 2011.

There it is. I tried. I failed. Period. But last year is history, and the new year is my story!

That’s right, I’m totally undaunted. Humbled but not discouraged. Perhaps I was overly ambitious. Perhaps my resolve faltered. Perhaps I needed humility, checked ambition, faltering resolve. Perhaps I needed to unlearn and relearn and regroup and refocus…

One year ago today — with all the hubris and fanfare of a precocious adolescent — I threw caution to the wind and sang out across the interwebs.

I do hereby firmly resolve to publish Rosslyn Redux in multiple formats and to share my experiences over the next year while moving toward this goal.

My most important 2011 new year’s resolution was to deliver Rosslyn Redux to its audience. And I failed. Mostly…

But rather than sulking and groveling and begging absolution, I’m going to double down. My timing was off, but my goals were spot on. Last year whistled past like a downtown express which sucked my clutch of papers and carefully coiffed do down the tube in its wake. After standing on the platform for a while I learned to read an iPad and wear a hat. Now when the train bullets past I don’t blink.

My 2011 resolution numero uno eluded me, but I made strides and learned plenty over the last twelve months. Now I’m ready to deliver on my promise. I’m gambling that new year’s resolutions (like wine and cheese) tend to improve with proper maturation!

But good cellaring alone won’t be enough to deliver the goods. Dreams are dandy, but it takes good fundamentals and process to mature goals into accomplishments. Here are a few pointers I’ve collected to help guide me.

  • pick very small resolutions, measurable actions that you can fulfill… You want small goals you can meet in a short time. (abc7.com)
  • make your resolution specific, with a tangible, achievable outcome. (forbes.com)
  • create a timeline… that gives you enough time to make the right choice. (How to keep your New Year’s Resolutions)
  • Get back to scrappy… and do fewer things, better. (inc.com)
  • outline the small, manageable steps you’ll need to take in order to achieve [your resolutions]… [Create a] a step-by-step plan…  (forbes.com)
  • [When you encounter] setbacks, don’t throw in the towel. Pick yourself up and start again. Setbacks are not a sign of failure; they are opportunities to learn and start again. (huffingtonpost.com)
  • Counterbalance all of these resolutions with a resolution that inspires you. Something you just want to do… Something that just makes you happy to be alive for another year. (psychologytoday.com)

Not bad coaching, right? So far I’ve got goal and guidance. What’s missing? Inspiration. For the rocket fuel of success, no better place to turn than Seth Godin.

The thing is, we still live in a world that’s filled with opportunity. In fact, we have more than an opportunity — we have an obligation. An obligation to spend our time doing great things. To find ideas that matter and to share them. To push ourselves and the people around us to demonstrate gratitude, insight, and inspiration. To take risks and to make the world better by being amazing.

You get to make a choice. You can remake that choice every day… you have the power to change everything that’s to come. And you can do that by asking yourself (and your colleagues) the one question that every organization and every individual needs to ask today: Why not be great? (fastcompany.com)

I always and forever agree: we live in a world filled with opportunity. And we have an obligation to find, create, inspire and share greatness. In order to do so, we have an obligation to take risks.

I mentioned earlier that I mostly failed to deliver Rosslyn Redux to its audience. There are two exceptions. Last April the Rosslyn Redux blog was born. Nine months and four dozen posts later readership is growing and the chronicle/adventure is evolving. While working through the book manuscript the blog offers an open workshop to learn from my readers what is working and what is compelling and what is not. Reader comments and feedback have become an invaluable measure of my storytelling and focus, and I’m excited to ramp up the posts in the new years.

The second exception was Redacting Rosslyn, a solo performance at The Depot Theatre of readings, storytelling and vignettes ranging from a wader-wearing Amazon named Rosslyn to a perennially pickled bathtub yachtsman. Turning my book inside out for a capacity audience was scary and thrilling and addictive. I wanted to stay in that collaborative space, that creative tension between storyteller and audience forever. It was the first time that I’ve invite the public into the story, the first time I’ve shared the characters and scenarios with which I’ve been obsessed for years. The performance explored the uncanny parallel between renovating Rosslyn and redacting the Rosslyn Redux manuscript.

Renovating Rosslyn was an adventure. Writing and editing Rosslyn Redux is an adventure. Redacting Rosslyn is an interstitial adventure tucked into the folds of both, a wander into the unfamiliar. And it demands new methods and rhythms, new risks, new exploration. (rosslynredux.com)

In this world filled with opportunity, this world in which we have an obligation to take risks, the blog and the live performance were my first two forays into the fulfillment of my 2011 new year’s resolution. In 2012, they will serve as the foundation upon which I find, create, inspire and share greatness.

I do hereby firmly resolve to publish Rosslyn Redux in multiple formats in 2012. In the weeks ahead I resolve to define small, measurable actions and to arrange them into a viable timeline in order to produce specific, achievable outcomes. I’ll organize a step-by-step plan and reduce it to the fewest, most necessary elements in order to succeed. I’ll get scrappy when necessary, and I’ll turn setbacks into lessons that will propel me toward my goal. One year from today I will celebrate success.

Thank you for your confidence!

 

The Story of Ferdinand, Revisited

Did you know that Ferdinand the Bull turned seventy five years old on March 31?

After posting my “Make Way for Ducklings” video on Rosslyn Redux, several friends mentioned that Robert McCloskey’s Boston duckling adventure was one of their favorite children’s books too. Which inevitably prompted me to throw The Story of Ferdinand into the mix. A lifelong fan of Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson’s masterpiece, I’m forever finding excuses to toss the flower-sniffing bull into conversation…

From good things, good things come! I was rewarded with exciting news: Ferdinand is a septuagenarian! For three quarters of a century Ferdinand has inspired kids (and adults!) to stop and savor the blossoms.

The Story of Ferdinand

The Story of Ferdinand (Image via Wikipedia)

Once upon a time in Spain there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand,” the book, which was illustrated with simple black-and-white ink drawings, opens. Deep in corrida des toros country, Ferdinand stood out from all the other bulls: “He liked to sit just quietly and smell the flowers.(ArtsBeat, New York Times)

Pamela Paul‘s post lead me to the quirky video above in which Seth Rogannarrates and the Salastina Music Society accompanies. Creative interpretation of the story!

Chasing down a related link to a vocal rendition of Ferdinand the Bull by The Lennon Sisters I stumbled across this version performed by theDixieland Swingsters. In fact, it turns out that YouTube is chock full of Ferdinand videos including:

I suppose that 75 years is plenty of time for derivative works to be inspired, produced and forgotten. And yet, I’d never stopped to consider the cretive legacy that The Story of Ferdinand. Cool. But I’m still sticking with the original. Simple line drawings and all!

Memoir Darts and Regurgitation

Like many writers and readers I’ve been chewing on Neil Genzlinger’s “Problem With Memoirs” and swinging back and forth between reproach and praise. It’s a provocative piece that continues to provoke dramatic responses.

There was a time when you had to earn the right to draft a memoir, by accomplishing something noteworthy or having an extremely unusual experience or being such a brilliant writer that you could turn relatively ordinary occur­rences into a snapshot of a broader historical moment. (NYTimes.com)

My reactions are complicated by the fact that Rosslyn Redux, my current work-in-progress, is a memoir. Besides, I agree with Genzlinger that an awful lot the whiny, angry drivel masquerading as memoir should still be standing vertical in forests.

Over the last few months that I’ve been chasing publishing answers and advice I’ve often heard that the best selling memoirs are born of strong platforms, not strong writing or stories. Celebrity memoirs are the obvious example. Publishers apparently love them because they sell, sell, sell. Makes sense. But doesn’t exactly fuel the sort of mighty memoir creation that Genzlinger craves. He acknowledges that there’s plenty of quality memoir being produced, but it’s swamped by forgettable, regrettable spamoir!

Sure, the resulting list has authors who would be memoir-eligible under the old rules. But they are lost in a sea of people you’ve never heard of, writing uninterestingly about the unexceptional, apparently not realizing how commonplace their little wrinkle is or how many other people have already written about it. (NYTimes.com)

That he lumps unheard-of memoirists with porridge producers continues to bug me. He seems to suggest, albeit obliquely, that memoir writing should be limited to writer’s sitting atop successful publishing careers. Or celebrities? Maybe this is like the agents and publishers and editors drumming the “Platform, Platform, Platform” chant. Or maybe he genuinely believes that  memoirs will be better if written by widely known/read authors. In any case, I don’t understand. And — as a newbie — I’m annoyed to be categorically dismissed. Porridge producers, be damned. But I’m confident that newbies can dish up delicacies too.

Am I being thin skinned? Sure. And this is the complexity of Genzlinger’s piece. I credit that he’s intentionally pushing buttons, intentionally chastising and provocative. And the brunt of his thinking is spot on. He closes with advice:

If you didn’t feel you were discovering something as you wrote your memoir, don’t publish it. Instead hit the delete key… (NYTimes.com)

Sure, he’s posturing and fanning the flames, but he’s right. But who decides? Writing and storytelling and memoir are subjective. And the marketplace often veers wildly from the literary merits of work published. Obviously the authors have a tough time typing “The End” and then condemning the preceding 180k words to the dustbin. And publishers are altogether too happy to pass the porridge along to starving readers with deep pockets. So who decides? Perhaps his point lies elsewhere; perhaps he’s simply trying to redefine what makes a good memoir.

That’s what makes a good memoir — it’s not a regurgitation of ordinariness or ordeal, not a dart thrown desperately at a trendy topic, but a shared discovery.(NYTimes.com)

This sings, soars, then arcs toward the target. Bulls eye! Bravo, Gun-slinger. This is what he’s after, the recipe for a meaningful memoir. And I want to stand and pump my fists in the air as I cheer and bellow, “Hurrah!”Memoir is discovery.

I differ with Penny Jar who’s response to “the great wack-a-doo in the memoir world” unleashed by Genzlinger’s piece concludes that a manifesto to brilliance is at work.

I don’t see the article as being the snobby, dodgy, shut-your-pie-hole critique it may have been served up as. I think it’s a call to brilliance. (Penny Jar)

Brilliance and excellence, yes, but this is always the case in great writing. What sets memoir apart? Discovery. I’m reading Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Storywhich breaks down this discovery even further into the narrator’s discovery of self through a larger, more plot-driven discovery. (I’ll tackle this idea again soon in another post.)

Absent the discovery, memoir is a pointless chronicle, a panful traipse through the wasteland of experience. So what? Who cares? If the reader is to become invested in the story, the author must share their discovery openly, honestly, artistically.

In “Writing Memoir: Art vs. Confessional” Susan Cushman develops this last idea further by referencing a comment made by Scott Morris (Waiting for April and The Total View of Taftly) a couple of years ago during a manuscript critique workshop she attended in Oxford, Mississippi:

A memoir must be artful and not just real. Yes, you’ve lived it—the abuse, the loss, the suffering—now you have to get up and above it, distance yourself, and spin a good yarn. You’ve got to create art from what you lived. (There Are No Rules)

So, where does this leave us? I’m still swimming upstream, trying to distill 400k of regurgitation into a tidy story. I’m enjoying the journey, but the discovery is still unraveling. As for art, though I’m courting her night and day, she’s an elusive soul. Not giving up yet…

Are some memoirs better as fiction?

William Zinsser on Memoir Writing

Though I’ve never met William Zinsser (Writing About Your LifeOn Writing Well), he’s been one of my mentors over the last year. In addition to sharing a Deerfield Academy history, his writing and teaching have propelled me toward a simpler and deeper understanding of the memoir I am writing. If it didn’t sound absurd, I might even suggest that Zinsser advice has served as Rosslyn Redux‘s midwife!

In a recent blog post, “How to Write a Memoir” tackles my current mega-challenge, organizing and reducing my memoir.

Most people embarking on a memoir are paralyzed by the size of the task. What to put in? What to leave out? Where to start? Where to stop? How to shape the story? The past looms over them in a thousand fragments, defying them to impose on it some kind of order. Because of that anxiety, many memoirs linger for years half written, or never get written at all. (The American Scholar)

According to Zinsser, writing a memoir necessitates a “series of reducing decisions“, starting with pruning out all non-essential characters. If they don’t absolutely need to be in the memoir, remove them.

You must find a narrative trajectory for the story you want to tell and never relinquish control. This means leaving out of your memoir many people who don’t need to be there. (The American Scholar)

More easily said than done! One of the most transformative aspects of the almost four years which my wife and I spent consumed with renovating our new home in the Adirondacks’ Champlain Valley was the proliferation of stories. So many lives have touched (or been touched) by this historic property. Rather than a home, we inherited a museum-full of lives, histories, artifacts, stories. It was a humbling and fascinating experience. And I wish to preserve as many of these stories as possible.

Early on I saw the memoir as a literary museum à la Plutarch’s Lives: Rosslyn’s Lives. Less ambitious in some respects, but more so in others. I’ve struggled with letting go of many of these stories, not for good, but from the memoir. Out of the memoir and onto the Rosslyn Redux website where I’ll aggregate and curate as many stories as I can before they disappear.

Don’t rummage around in your past—or your family’s past—to find episodes that you think are “important”…. Look for small self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory. If you still remember them it’s because they contain a universal truth that your readers will recognize from their own life. (The American Scholar)

This is helpful, almost a permission to focus and reduce. And yet it is far more easily prescribed than administered! Even on the simplest level, my wife frequently grows frustrated with my omissions. I remind her that my story is different from hers. What may continue to anger her about an error we made or a contractor who disappointed may have become humorous for me. Perhaps she’ll find time to record her own memoir?

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Essex-Charlotte Ferry Breaking the Ice

A true North Country winter! The Champlain Valley is blanketed, no… quaint, but no. Rewind. The Champlain Valley is buried beneath another 15-18″ of fresh snow. Beautiful. Picturesque. Unless you’re pushing a shovel! (Or trying to get somewhere…)

Getting somewhere is the learning lesson topic of the day. Why get anywhere other than right here. Stop driving the desk and go out for a ski! Shortly I hope to do just that. But first a glimpse at the now mostly frozen lake. I shot the fuzzy video on my phone this morning to show that the Essex-Charlotte ferry is still managing despite the ice. This vessel is technically not an ice breaker and can only manage to navigate until the ice becomes thicker than 3″ thick. Which — I’m guessing now — isn’t too far off. In fact, it’s already well beyond that near our dockhouse. Then we’ll reallyhave to stay home and play in the snow!

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