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*Elizabeth's occasional newsletter about the writing, reading, and the otherwise contemplating of contemporary memoir.



 It is 2:00 a.m. and I cannot sleep.

      Neither side of the pillow qualify as the "cool side,"

and while I know that I am tired, I also have this vague

sensation that the bed is also tired of me.  My mind is busy

reviewing a mental videotape of the previous day's worst

moments. Then it toggles forward to several impending

conflicts for the day to soon begin. My leg itches and I can't

seem to scatch it enough to satisfy that itch. Did one of the

cats bring in a case of fleas?

        Somewhere in the mix of all of this, appears what

might be referred to as a sparkle. Something shiny. It is a

thought that is not quite an idea, per se, but more than a fleeting

image. It has to do with a string of words that seem somehow...

interesting. And then the sparkle starts to shimmer. I recognize this! This is how a story is born. Or a poem. Or an essay. They start just ike this, all sparkly and naked, in need of the clothes that are words, paragraphs and eventually, pages.

          But my leg itches. The bed is suddenly softer. The pillow seems cooler after flipping it for the umpteenth time. I can try to go back to sleep and, at some point, I know I will.  Or maybe I will check my phone or email. Have I received a text? Did the country declare war on anyone in the night? Did anyone declare war on us? Has there been a tornado? Or maybe I will flip on a movie. Or pick up my book, where I left it off. An exciting episode.

          And yet, I know there is another option. To get up, and write down those shiny, sparkly and irridescent words. It would take some energy and wherewithal to do so. But I know, in fact I promise you here, that if I do this, haul my butt out of the warm, soft bed with a suddenly coolish pillow, if I toss my legs down to the floor and fit them into the slippers there and walk to my computer desk, something will happen.

          The sparkle, you see, is the way writing calls to me.  It's the ringtone. It's the bullhorn.  If I (or you) get up and write down those few shiny words what I (or you) would essentially be doing is answering the doorbell to let in creativity. Out will poor the words and stories. In fact: THIS IS HOW MANY BOOKS ARE WRITTEN.

           Open the night door.

           Night writing was the practice of some of the most famous writers in history. The poems of Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda and Delmore Schwartz were written at night. Plath had her own name for the sparkle in the night, she called it "...a child forming itself, finger by finger, in the dark."

       My advice to you is to get up and answer the doorbell of the night muse. 

You will thank me for this someday when we meet at a writing conference and you are talking about the beginning of your new memoir. How you started out.

      "It came in the middle of the night," you will say. "It was sparkling."


 J.D. Salinger

-Charles Dickens
-Pablo Neruda
-Robert Frost

-T.S. Eliot

-Barack Obama

-Franz Kafka

-Danlelle Steele

-Richard Brautigan

-Marcel Proust

-James Joyce

-Sylvia Plath

-Tennessee Williams

-James Tipton
-Delmore Schwartz


Genre Assigning. When editors, readers and the world at large assign-- and ghettoize-- a writer in/to a particular genre.


           PERSONAL ESSAY                       CONTEST

Topic: Where/When Do you Write BEst?
Deadline: NOV. 15


Warm up with these!
1. a smell that triggers a memory/a memory that triggers a smell
2. a song that triggers a memory/a memory that reminds you of a song
3. a taste that triggers a memory/ a memory that triggers a taste
4. a texture that triggers a memory/a memory that evokes a texture

Graphic memoirist Amy Kurtzweil and her dad, Ray Kurtzweil, Google genius,

discuss her amazing memoir about her 

Holocaust-surviving grandmother,



I love Sandra Tsing Loh. NO, really, I love her. I would probably marry her. And I am straight. I would marry her because she would keep me in stitches forever, a state I really enjoy. She is the woman who said so memorably, "...when faced with writer's block, lower your standards..." and "..all autobiography is fiction." You can see why I love her. She says what I am too afraid to say, but NEED to hear. So imagine how excited I was to see the publication of her memoir, The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones. My first thought was, oh goodie, now I can read someone say all the things I never said because it might be too unseemly. Second thought: her YEAR? She got off with one year? Beee--atch.

But I forgive her. I forgive her because she ADMITS, openly, that she owns at least three copies of One Hundred Years of Solitude and has never read it. Nor does she plan to. Same with her "moldering pile of Henry James." Why do I love this? Because of the honesty there. I love OYOS and James but never got through Vanity Fair. I am well acquainted with the "dated but never committed"  relationship to certain books. A lot of people won't confess to this.

Courage. A writer saying these blasphemous things. I once read that only 2 percent of all the people who say they have read Proust's Remembrance of Things Past really have. I suspect it is the same with James. I try. I try. I try. My attention span seems to have contracted to the size of your average Tony Hillerman novel. Too bad he died and I have read them all. Too bad his daughter is a poor substitute. I am doing ok with Alexander McCall and his Precious books. And memoirs. I can read memoirs, like Patti Smith's E Train, like Bruce Springsteen's, like anything by my girl  Mary Carr and THIS. THIS BOOK. I read it out loud to myself to hear it. And then I discovered there is an audio file on Good Reads so I listened to Sandra herself. She is so freakin funny. The sadder life gets, the funnier she is. She has an affair, ehr marriage implodes, she is alone with two TEENAGE GIRLS and she is on a diet with apparently NEGATIVE calories when menopause hits. Dudes, this is so funny. Some people deride her for her life of privilege. Not me. I adore a good affluent woman story! In fact, anyone surprised by this need only look at the title. Is it named "Madwoman in the Used Honda Civic?" 


Loh does things I have only dreamed of doing-- like she apparently confronted her daughter's bully. She deals with an aging father and manages to keep her kids off Facebook. She is brilliant. So funny. But since she has told us already in her other writings, "all autobiography is fiction" -- how can we take any of this too seriously? Answer: we can't. And that seems ok here.

If you want to read a book about a woman behaving nuttily, and doing all the things you want to do but don't, if you want to read someone put down the truth, and not color it fairy tale pink, here it is. There are moments of wisdom here (“...the hormonal imbalance is actually fertility. Fertility is the change. That's when a woman loses herself”), but mostly just the stand up comedian version of life I love Loh for being ("...menopause is our chance to say I am Woman. Open a Freaking Window" ).

If you are having hot flashes or ever did, read this book. If you haven't had hot flashes, and you are female, you will, so read this book. If you are a guy who knows ANY WOMEN AT ALL, read this book. If you are a kid and have a mother, read this book. And if you just want a chuckle or two, and experience the most peculiar and earnest wisdoms, read this book.

Do not expect high literature here. This is stand-up turned autobiography. 

This book was written in 2014 but it is timeless. And the good news, you can get new copies of the Norton hardcover version off Amazon for $5.98. 

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