The Quiet

These days, everything happens in the quiet

The music is in my head phones

My thoughts are on the paper

Soon grackles will split the silence

Climaxing in the thin clash

of augmented and diminished tones

Today someone will ask me if I read

And as my face darkens

I will flash to the Pakastani girl

made honorably quiet

by her brother.







Why Memoir is Interesting

I was recently talking with someone who confused autobiography with memoir, and that got me thinking about why I like the memoir form. We’ve probably all heard the cliche of someone saying: when I get old, I’m going to write my memoirs. And I’ve always thought, wow, this is going to get saucy!

But that’s not what modern memoir is. While memoir runs the risk of navel gazing or the public airing of very dirty laundry, the real value of memoir is when the writer is able to truly delve into their own psyche and tease apart what it was that made a particular memory significant.

Vivian Gornick does a great job of explaining this:

“We are in the presence of a mind puzzling its way out of its own shadows—moving from unearned certainty to thoughtful reconsideration to clarified self knowledge.”

And again from Gornick:

“In nonfiction, the writer has only the singular self to work with. So it is the other in oneself that the writer must seek and find to create movement, achieve dynamic. Inevitably, the piece builds only when the narrator is involved not in confession but in this kind of self-investigation. The kind that means to provide motion, purpose, and dramatic tension. Here, it is self-implication that is required. To see one’s own part in the situation—that is, one’s own frightened or cowardly or self-deceived part—is to create the dynamic.”

Sven Birkerts gets to it this way:

“…apart from whatever painful or disturbing acts they recount, their deeper purpose is to discover the connections that allow these experiences to make larger sense. They are about circumstances becoming meaningful when seen from a certain remove. They all, to greater or lesser degree, use the vantage of the present to get at what might be called the hidden narrative of the past.”

And from Patricia Hampl:

“…but in writing memoir, I did not simply relive the experience. Rather, I explored the mysterious relationship between all the images I could round up and even more impacted feelings that caused me to store the images safely in memory. Stalking the relationship, seeking the congruence between stored image and hidden emotion—that’s the job of memoir.”

When I wrote about some key memories in my own life, I was struck by how hard it was for me to get the image out of my head and put it into text. When I read what I wrote, it evoked a different image for me, a strangely morphed version of my original concept. As I layered on my own ideas and thoughts about the situation, my mind’s eye saw yet a different expanse of memory. It is this dynamic, this interplay between my own starting memory and my ending written memory that makes writing memoir so interesting to me. I have found that writing memoir is a way to take control of the memory, wrestle it down to the ground, and transform it into art. Somehow this releases the energy of the memory and creates a persistent sense of ease, at least for me.



Dinner Party

Proud birds, now ostriches, sit in the sink

Waiting for pot-bellied chefs to arrive

Ice cubes in distant rooms they can hear clink

As good looking lizards interlock thighs


Man-made volcanoes are far, far away

Not really thought about while in the bath

Arms, legs, and fingers, like heads, go astray

Just parts in a bully’s outsourcing wrath.


Oh the embarrassment, oh the disdain,

How could we eagles give lizards our votes?

Heads are so heavy that chicken necks strain.

Who is to help us now they’ve got our throats?


Poor little ostriches sit and await

Champagne-sipping lizards staying up late.

Rework: Change the Way You Work Forever

@ 2010, Vermilion, London, pp. 279
by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

I wish every boss in the whole wide world had this book, and lived by it. The authors are the guys who started Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, Campfire, and Ruby on Rails. Of these companies, I had only heard of Basecamp, but that alone was enough to impress me. And they present a truly modern, visionary view of the working world, what it’s like for them, and what it could be like for us.

They go against practically everything my former employer lived by, which makes them little darlings in my eyes.

Page 5: “It’s time to throw out the traditional notions of what it takes to run a business.”

Ok, I’m listening…

While much of what this book preaches is what I already suspected or believed, it’s a feel-good page-turner eloquently stating the obvious with ruthless honestly:

“[Workaholics] try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force. This results in inelegant solutions.”

It rails against perfectionists, informing us that these types fixate on “inconsequential details.” It urges us to solve our own problems and to get enough sleep:

“If you encounter someone who’s acting like a fool, there’s a good chance that person is suffering from sleep deprivation.”

The book is sharp and sassy, advising us to emulate drug dealers (I won’t spoil that section for you), build an audience, spend time teaching, and when in doubt, hire the best writer.

Page 253: “Cut the crap and you’ll find that people are waiting to do great work…”

And when you treat people like children, surprise, surprise, they act like children.

It tells us that we don’t need as much as we think to start our own business. We can get along with a lot less. It tells us not to pay so much attention to resumes, the best candidates reveal themselves in the cover letter.

And, planning is guessing.

Yes, yes, and yes.

This book drips with integrity and honesty. It sums up beautifully why and how growing too fast will ruin your company and destroy your culture.

It’s awesome that my boss recommended this book, but sad that its concepts are fresh and new: not working your employees to death, not treating them like children, getting enough sleep, not being a perfectionist, not giving the fake, no-ownership apology, doing with less than you think you need, etc., etc.

I would like to think that Seth Godin is right: “Ignore this book at your peril.”