As I wade through Weather Vane (working title, folks, working title) one more time, scraping and polishing and generally making Simon a more dynamic and interesting fellow, I am very aware of the stories impatiently kicking at stones by the side of the road. When Roadkill bloomed in my mind I was off in a wonderland akin to the first flush of an affair, but I had to put the affair on hold while I attended to the current rewrite. And in doing so I found that I didn’t have clear answers to some crucial questions regarding the new story, such as, what is this story about? Just a small hiccup!
So that story is brewing, but the memoir – I know what it’s about even though the writing of it is somewhat fraught. And it’s the memoir that everyone perks up to when I talk about it, often exclaiming, Now that’s a story I want to read! So why is it so difficult? Well, essentially it’s because you’re not supposed to make shit up when you write a memoir. You have to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, but not the whole truth. In other words, the dilemma is about what exactly to reveal. What is pertinent to the story, what is the story. I mean, one’s life is a long-running drama with twists and turns, failures and successes that can bleed into one another without any clear demarcation. How to tease it all out? I can do it with fiction, because in fiction if it doesn’t flow I just make shit up so that it does.
But that’s not the real problem. The story I need to write is about the years I spent in orbit around Osho – a controversial Indian mystic; my guru, and that’s why the topic is both hot and fraught. It’s a story about me not him, so that simplifies it a bit, but also heightens the stakes. It’s about the tug-of-war between freedom/independence and community/belonging. I had wanted to title it, A Safe Distance, but in conversation with Michael Neff, of the Algonkian conferences, he jumped on the title, Four Winters in India when I said that’s how long I’d spent there.
I know I have to write this book, and I have probably a hundred or so pages already written, some scenes written two or three times, but I really don’t know how to write a memoir. So next step is to sign up for Sue Reynolds’ memoir writing course starting in January. These past few years I have learned how to write a novel, and now I’m going to learn how to write a memoir. I used to be so cocky – I could do anything I wanted and didn’t need anyone’s help. It took a few decades to realize that this particular stance doesn’t work very well. I’m learning that it’s never too late to learn. And for that I am grateful, old dogs notwithstanding.