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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
MAY
26

The Annual Blubbering

This happens to me every year. I become exponentially more sentimental than I already am. I cry at such things as the Glee season finale. I frantically call to mind any memory of times when it was me making life-changing decisions while balancing the excitement and fear that in my case was pretty much just fear. I'm talking about graduation.

While writing Schooled I worried that it might be a downer. Specifically because my graduations were never things I was particularly excited about. The accomplishment, certainly. The cash from relatives, absolutely. But I'm the type of person who becomes comfortable in my environment, particularly when I've really enjoyed the environment and/or thrived there. The thought of post-graduation life always worried me, and graduations were consequently just about the most bittersweet events of my life.

Now that I'm through with my own graduations and have joined the ranks of Real People, I can appreciate them in a way I never did before, and perhaps to make up for that, they tend to make me weep. Which is why I've been in a bit of a tender mood over the past week or two as the universities here in town have held their graduation ceremonies. I love seeing students proud of themselves, I love seeing parents proud of their students, and I love seeing an auditorium full of people who are all momentarily united by this same source of pride. See what I mean? I can't believe I'm even saying this kind of crap, but this is what happens to me. It's kids moving over their tassels. It's teachers wishing their pupils well. It's Rachel Berry on her own in New York City. It's life, and it's changing. Whether you want it to or not. So pardon me if I cry a little. 'Tis the season.

MAY
20

Memoirs I Love

It occurred to me recently that 9 of the last 10 books I've read have been memoirs. Figures. While I can certainly appreciate a well-written novel (I'm just as into things like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter as everyone else), my favorite things to read are memoirs. I just love real life, because if the book is good, there's an extra sense of satisfaction in knowing that it really happened. The author really did accomplish this great thing, conquer this pesky demon, learn this poignant lesson, make it through this unimaginable trial, etc. And if the memoir is more entertaining than serious, that's even better. Because that means the author really did make this big a fool of themselves, say this ballsy thing to that other person, get themselves into this hilarious shenanigan, etc.

One of the first memoirs I ever read was 'Tis. This is of course book 2 in the Angela's Ashes series, but I didn't know that at the time. I simply became engrossed in the story of a penniless Irish boy making his way in America. Some time later I read Teacher Man, book 3 in the series, and loved it too. As a sidenote, the teacher memoir is a dynamite idea. Think of all those lessons learned from students. Such a wealth of experiences to draw from there. To any of you teachers out there, please write memoirs so I can read them! Even though Angela's Ashes is actually the first book in the series, I read it last, and actually enjoyed it the least.

Still one of my all-time favorites in the world of memoirs is The Secret Life of Cowboys. Partly because I've always wanted to be a cowboy, or at least marry one, but mostly because it was about boy studying English who decided to scrap it all and become a cowboy. Not because he knew anything about it, but because he wanted to. And if that isn't the most ballsy move to make in life, then I don't know what is. The truth is, I'm jealous. And reading about horses and cattle and land as he learned about life on a ranch (and eventually bought one himself), was as informative as it was wistful.

And even though I only read this one recently, A Girl Named Zippy is one of the most delightfully hilarious memoirs I've read in a long time. Just a collection of stories from her life growing up in a small town, this is the kind of memoir that has you not only laughing out loud at the situations she got herself into, but also secretly wishing your own younger self had been as clever, stubborn, and interesting. A little reminiscent of Ramona Quimby, I could have kept reading several hundred pages more. And isn't that the point? For an author, I think yes. Yes, it is.

MAY
17

For Dad: It's back to Billy

No, I don't have a Father's Day poem from Billy Collins for this post. But I do find it funny that he's making his way into the conversation again. Because today being Father's Day and all, I was reminded of the first thing my dad said to me after he read Schooled. He told me that he wanted to lodge a complaint, or at least go down on the record as saying that I had mis-stated something in the book. I asked what it was, and he brought up the "On Billy Collins" section that directly proceeds my graduation from college. In that section I mention that my parents don't consider his work to be poetry, but that since he was at that time our poet laureate, they lose the argument every time. Dad then insisted (in a surprisingly emphatic manner) that it is I who loses the argument every time, and that his work really isn't poetry unless the very definition of poetry has changed. I do think the definition has morphed over time, but I suppose what I really mean in the book is that I think they lose the argument, just as they are sure that I lose the argument.

No matter, the point of this post is simply that it's Father's Day, and my dad never ceases to crack me up. Why just today I was complaining to him about how much my vet will surely charge for the analysis of my cat's stool sample that he (my vet) is insisting be a part of my cat's check-up next weekend. My dad, himself a vet, said I could always bring some of her poop home with me when I fly out there in a couple of weeks and he would do the analysis for free. We were then in stitches at the thought of cat poop getting through security. Not to mention my neighbors on the plane who would no doubt smell it. What he doesn't realize is I may just be crazy enough to do it. What a story that would make.

MAY
13

Mom

One of the first pieces of feedback I got on this book came from a friend who said something that surprised me. "My favorite character in the book was your Mom," he said. This baffled me. Not because my mom isn't the most angelic person on the planet, but because she's not exactly a main player in the book. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I seemed to remember that she was only even mentioned a handful of times. "Really?" I pushed back. "Yeah, she just comes across as so honest and real," he assured me. And he's not the only person who has commented to me about how well my mom comes out in the book. I guess it's impossible to conceal just how wonderful my mom is.

And on this Mother's Day, I find myself feeling weepy. Not only because my own mother is such a great example to me of goodness, but also because they keep playing that Johnson's Baby commercial ("You're doing okay, Mom") which if you have two X chromosomes is physically impossible to stay dry-eyed through. So in order to get an emotional hold on myself this evening, I'm leaving you with this rather entertaining gem. Not a Mother's Day poem by any means, but one of my BC favorites. Dedicated to my Mom...along with countless lanyards.

MAY
06

Feeding Back

Amusing things that I've heard so far:

"I have four sisters, and I feel after reading your book like I know you better."

"I feel like I've been inside your head for the last 25 years."

"I feel like I'm reading your diary. I'm impressed that you are THAT gutsy. Gutsy enough to publish your diary."

"It feels almost voyeuristic. Like I'm witnessing all these intimate moments. OK, voyeuristic is probably not the right word."

"I can't wait to see who plays me in the movie."

"Are you the next James Joyce or does all that lowercase mean that Amazon screwed up?"

"You bitch. I can't believe you said that about me."

I'm just kidding about that last one, although some of you might be thinking it. I will say that it has been rather eye-opening to put a book out there that talks about real people, many of whom I love and care about. Because while it was important to me to say exactly what I was thinking and feeling and witnessing at the time, it has literally crushed me to learn of a few people's feelings who were hurt by the book. Discussing this topic--the seemingly dark side of being totally honest--with a former college English professor of mine, he reminded me of a passage from Betsy Lerner's A Forest for the Trees:

"Let’s face it, if in your writing you lift the veil on your family, your community, or even just yourself, someone will take offense. . . . If you write what is most pressing, you are revealing thoughts, secrets, wishes, and fantasies that you (and we as readers) would never otherwise confess to. Most writers, like most children, need to tell. The problem is that much of what they need to tell will provoke the ire of parent-critics, who are determined to tell writer-children what they can and cannot say. Unless you have sufficient ego and feel entitled to tell your story, you will be stymied in your effort to create. You think you can’t write, but the truth is you can’t tell. Writing is nothing if not breaking the silence. The problem is, no one likes a snitch."

As a sidenote, if anyone is looking for a great book about writing, this one is my favorite. I marked this passage (along with many others) the first time I read through it, which was ten years ago. But as to the passage itself, to me it so perfectly captures the dilemma in which I now find myself, and will probably continue to find myself as I write more memoirs. "Maybe you should stick to fiction," someone told me while discussing this very topic. Which would perhaps be the safer thing to do, and I totally would if my brain could think up a story half as entertaining as real life. Until then, I can only stick to what I know. Hey, it's either this or poetry. So consider yourselves lucky.

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