I Don’t Like Spiders. Or Yetis.

1.  Remember that song from the 70’s?  I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes, and that ain’t what it takes to love me.  You fool, you fool. 

2.  Last night I went to bed thinking about writing a letter to my 16 year old self.  I’d seen a video earlier in the day on this subject and of course my labyrinth of a mind chose now to mull it over.  What would I say to that girl?  She does look like she needs a talkin’ to.  I would tell her she’s smarter than her test scores.  I would tell her to apply to colleges far far away, out of state.  Colleges with real names.  I would tell her she didn’t need a man to define her.  I would tell her to wear 50 SPF sunscreen on her face instead of baby oil mixed with iodine for tanning.  I would tell her to travel.  Travel to countries where they don’t speak English, countries you’ve never even heard of.  I would tell her to try it, just try it!, try anything, and don’t be afraid.  I would tell her to eat more sensibly, to stop drinking beer every weekend, and to play sports.  She would be good at sports.

3.  Back to last night.  My dogs got to spend the night in our room.  On Maybe-There’s-A-Bad-Man-Outside duty.  On Yeti Alert (an old childhood nightmare).  At 12:14 a.m., Lea the Lab woke me up, yelping about some squirrel she was chasing in her nightmare, and I had to come-to long enough to shush her.  In that very instant, a spider — a big hairy spider — jumped onto my shoulder like a cat.  I kid you not.

4.  Who can sleep after that?  Thankfully I was already 30 pages into a fine book:  Jasmin Darznik’s THE GOOD DAUGHTER.  So far I love everything about it.  Except … except it’s a memoir, and it’s told in the third person, and it opens in an era in which she did not live.  How does she know her great grandmother looked at her sister this way or that?  How does she know what her great-grandfather was saying?  In other words, what makes this a memoir vs. a novel based on a true story?

5.  I got up and wrote a couple of dialogue scenes without worrying whether I had it right or not.  This kind of thing — is the dialogue exactly 100% true and right — makes me nuts.  Last night I felt free of it.  I write better at night.  Always have.

6.  Yesterday I re-watched the Oprah / James Frey interview, the kiss-and-make-up one, from last month.  Here’s what I heard that I don’t remember hearing the first time:  he said he originally wrote A MILLION LITTLE PIECES without regard for genre or rules.  That he was merely trying to tell a good story of defiance, that he thinks all memoirs are fabrications anyway, and why do we need to write in a box of “novel” or “mystery” or “romance” or “memoir” and worry about how it will be marketed. (not his exact words; my interpretation)  I couldn’t help but think, The man’s got a point.

When you write, are you thinking about your genre?  About staying in your box?  If you could write a letter to your 16 year old self, what would you say?

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11 thoughts on “I Don’t Like Spiders. Or Yetis.

  1. lizisilver

    Teri, your spider must be the same spider I killed in my house the night of insomnia when my husband was away! Reincarnated and stopping over at your place for a visit. Something’s brewing. Someone write a story about it…a group of women geographically distant but connected through language and friendship who start to notice strange coincidences like spiders and psychopaths (yetis) showing up unexpectedly at their homes. One by one. And a rotary phone rings in the background. (Do you hear the Jaws music???)

    I would tell my 16 year old self to worry less. I guess I have to tell my present self the same thing.

  2. amyg

    first…we’re surfing on the same wave length. yesterday, i called my best friend since 4th grade and asked her if i could borrow her box of memories. (she kept every note she was given in high school in a big card board box that is now stored in a room in her parent’s house that was once her bedroom.) on many of nights when i was left to watch my much younger siblings during my teenage years, i would scribble six to ten-page notes to her. i’m showing up at her parents house this weekend to re-introduce myself to that girl i was so long ago.

    second…while i find him arrogant, i’ve always been on frey’s side. memoirs are the memoirs of the people who write them. the other characters are merely supporting figures that help shape the story. no matter what you write someone will tell you, “it didn’t happen that way.” and for them, it may not have; but for you, it happened the way you remember it and that’s all you can write.

    and you know, you’ve got to be thankful for that spider. it opened a space for you to write in.

    1. Lisa Golden

      amyg – the idea of the memory box is intriguing. What a gift! and I agree with you about memoir. The author is telling the story from their point of view remembered as only they remember it.

  3. erikamarks

    I’m with lizi on this one, Teri. I’d tell myself to worry less. Oh, and to not try and sell my Harlequin novels with their copious sex scenes before I’d actually, you know, HAD sex. Live and learn.

    (And for the record, spiders and palmetto bugs only get close when our men are away. They just know. Don’t ask me how, but they do.)

    1. Teri Post author

      Write what you know is not so overrated then? 😉 Also, I’ll be dying to read Little Gale Gumbo —- I know, I know, but I really will be. All that spell-casting has me happy. You’ll have to let us know immediately this fall when the hoopla starts.

  4. Teri Post author

    Lizi, you KNOW I was thinking about you in the middle of the night. With my spider and all. And I like your idea for a story. It would actually be entertaining to have us all write that story and see how it many different ways it came out. Can you imagine?

  5. macdougalstreetbaby

    I feel like there’s more at stake with a memoir, that you’re emotionally invested in ways a novel-based-on-true-events doesn’t offer. It’s a slight but discernible difference,

    I would tell my 16 year old self to slow down and to stop chasing waterfalls. I would tell her to forgo a game of asteroids and, instead, while handing her an Astrid Lindgren novel, I would demand that she sit down and read it. Then I would hide a compact mirror in her knapsack and instruct her to take it out, every day, to look at her reflection. Finally, I’d point to the pen and paper sitting beside her and tell her to just write.

  6. Lisa Golden

    I’d pretty much tell my 16 year old self exactly what you’d tell yourself. Also, that photo of you is wonderful. What joy and energy! You’re gorgeous.

    Genre gives me a headache and sometimes the box is there and sometimes it’s not. I prefer when it’s not.

    1. Teri Post author

      Thank you, Lisa. When I look at that girl, she looks like she could use a valium. And of course you can’t see the beer can in my hand, so that might have something to do with it.

  7. Lyra

    I thought you were writing about Dorothy Hamill! I swear I thought that was a picture of her!

    (That must be my year’s quota of explanation points, so I’ll bring it back a notch.)

    To me, Stop smoking. Drinking won’t fix it. Eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re sad. What you have to say has value. There are some secrets that you don’t have to keep. Don’t look to others for your own beauty. Write it down and get it right. It’s good. You’re good. You’re strong. Treat yourself as seriously and with the kind of care you treat others.

    And I don’t think at all about genre when I’m writing. I think it’s outside of my control. My sentences, word choices, all of it, just is at this point. Hopefully, “just is” fits in somewhere.

    1. Downith

      I love that photo! You look sassy and fun to be with and like you are having a ball.

      When I did that online writing course with Sarah Salway we did a similar exercise – we had to write a letter to our 16 year old self and then one from our 16 year old self to us now. Very interesting what came out .

      Lyra – I would say to my 16 year old self virtually the same as what you said. Just think if we all knew then what we know now . . .

      I think your number 6 may’ve answered your number 4?

      (Teri, check your email!)

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