Memoirs, Writing Fiction, and the Difference

Memoir is really very similar to fiction in how it’s written. They both follow the same structure. Events are organized in the framework of a story. The flow isn’t interrupted to preserve the totality of events. Things that pertain to the story being told are included. Everything else is left out. Fiction is an additive method. Memoir is subtractive. You take a subset of everything you remember and from that into a cohesive story. Events are picked from a multitude of things that actually happened.

This selection of events is apparent in movies based on true events or a dramatization of the truth. Take for example, Steve Jobs. I’ve watched three versions of Jobs’ life. First, the biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, Jobs. Then the factual documentary Man in the Machine. Finally, Steve Jobs directed by Arron Sorkin and starring Michael Fassbender.

Each movie had a different angle. Jobs was about Jobs getting ideas and using them to be the best. Man in the Machine is trying to be as unbiased as possible. It was the most balanced but tried to talk about the relatively unknown things about Jobs. Steve Jobs was controversial in its directorial and writing direction. It omitted his accomplishments for the most part and focused on his relationship with his daughter, Lisa.

All in all, the based on true story movies tried to make Jobs relatable. And the perception of Jobs was he wasn’t approachable. He was a strict, straight to business type of guy. He had stringent expectations and expected them to be met. He was thought to be the driving force behind Apple’s success. Each movie took a different approach to humanize and create a connection with the audience. Sorkin focused on Jobs’ personal life and matched it to Apple’s performance/Jobs’ fortunes. Jobs started us with Jobs as a student that couldn’t really connect with anyone except when he started Apple. Man in the Machine used his relationship with the mother of his daughter.

 

Memoir and fiction follow the same pattern. First, we see the character before anything starts. Then, something happens they have to react to. Then, they try fixing the problem different ways and fail successive times. Then, something starts working. Finally, the character succeeds, finds something that changes their life forever, and the story ends. This matches the character arc of a fictional story. Fiction adds an external conflict. When the character arc is the main conflict, it’s a literary story.

gone girl

Some recent stories have a strong character arc and conflict arc that are nearly equivalent in importance. Take The Girl on the Train as an example. The character arc of Rachel’s drinking and the central conflict of finding Megan’s killer. Or Gone Girl. The internal conflict is how Amy feels about Nick and the external conflict is Amy’s murder. Adding a strong character arc to a compelling plot brings a story up by an arm and a leg.

girl on the train

I recently read Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara. She is a prolific writer of memoirs and personal essays. She pointed out some key points. You have to be a hero, not a victim. It’s easy in this society and time to feel like a victim. You need a time in your life where you take action. A bad thing comes your way, and you fix it. Getting your car stolen is bad luck. Bad stuff happens. But if you track down the thieves, steal your car back, and you learn how to overcome a debilitating fear of confrontation. Then, it becomes a story that works in a memoir.

ndw

You need to be done with the problem. If you haven’t found a way out, there’s nothing really there. Struggling and still struggling with the issue you want to write about, it is too soon. The writer needs perspective to make a memoir. You need to know the lesson and be detached enough to know what really happened. People read a memoir to gain a new understanding of the human condition. Something that can help figure out life, a little better.

 

A few things are in the way of me writing personal essays. When I write about myself, the writing comes out snobbish and stand-offish. I have allows been a little showoff. For years, I never knew why I wanted to prove my intelligence. Recently, I found the reason behind it. I have always felt less than everyone else because of my physical limitations. I always felt a little trapped by my condition. My way out and to feel better about being “less”, I try to feel equal by proving my intelligence more than balances out my physical weakness. That realization changed a lot, but I still worry about falling back into old habits.

 

When I have in-depth conversations about my intense emotional states and the inner workings of my mind, the person on the other end doesn’t understand me. That’s because I’ve never tried telling people even a percentage of that stuff. I have trouble relating to other people. I’ve been anti-social for that long. I’m slowly improving there.

 

This is an example of a recent conversation where I try to get better at explaining something.

 1 

Recently saw Collateral Beauty. It’s about a father that recently lost his 6-year-old daughter to cancer. He writes letters to Death, Time, and Love and they reply. Towards the end, there was a really emotional scene where he admits his daughter is dead. I actually had tears forming a well in my eyes but didn’t allow any out. I pulled away emotionally.

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Why didn’t you let your tears come? Don’t you think you’re cutting out emotion unnecessarily?

 3

Whenever I describe something in too much detail, it doesn’t make sense. I need to fix that before writing a memoir. I’ll try my usual description first.

 

Emotional history: Started as a person with normal reactions to my emotions. Feeling them and becoming numb when some emotion became too much. Everyone does that except it isn’t going to happen frequently for most people. For example losing a close loved one. That might happen a few times. Simple sadness was enough to make me numb after a little while.

 

Then I started to decrease the threshold before I became numb. It worked for a time, and I reached my goal to fit as a male in American society. At one point, I was unable to feel anything.

 

Then, I slowly reduced the threshold when numbness happened. Through that still ongoing process, I thought I was rediscovering something I lost. That moment, watching that movie, I was in a struggle to stay there and feel. Becoming numb would have been slightly easier. There was a standstill and anything could tip the balance. Something did.

 

A better image. Everyone has three parts to their psyche. We’ll ignore the superego. There are various names that work for superego like conscience, mother’s voice, God, and hindsight. We’ll ignore that.

 

There’s a childish side or you at your weakest, id, baby, or the person you would be without an external influence. Then the protector, ego, or what the world made you into. The protector usually acts in small ways. Like covering your face, when you cry. Hiding you away, when you’re boiling mad. Putting on a brave face, when you’re really scared. It basically reacts to what the baby wants and finds a socially acceptable way to meet those needs.

 

What happens with normal emotions? The protector does those little things. When something too much happens, like the death of a close loved one, the protector says, “Baby, you need some time in your quite room. I’ll be with you the whole time. Too much is going on out here.” You become numb while the baby has some time away from life.

 

For someone like me, the baby cries bloody murder when something sad happens. Everything is exaggerated beyond the average. A baby like that spends too much time in the quite room. That baby never gets to experience a lot, because a lot of things are too much.

 

I increased the sensitivity of my protector to the baby by showing the protector more emotional states. Like an abused child, the protector grew more attuned to the tormentor, the whiny baby. Then the baby spends less time out and then none at all.

 

Right now, I’m dismantling the safe room. If an external threat appears, the deconstruction stops or reverses temporarily. Very similar to the process of growing up.

 

That’s still a little confusing.

 

The other part is sharing too much. The vulnerability of it. We’re all scared to sharing too much. That allows the possibility of getting hurt. The more you share, the greater the rejection. I feel like I should share my life’s lessons. I’ve been through a lot. Moving to a different country at five and never going back. My medical experiences that vastly over date my time to 28 years of age. Then the lessons meditation taught me. Finally finding meaning in my life. There is a lot I could share. There might be a memoir in my future. We’ll see.

 

Going Back: High School

This previous summer, I went to my ten-year high school reunion. I think the best thing is to describe how I was during High School. I was shy and more anti-social than anyone I knew. A lot of things that could have broken my shyness came my way, but I’d always been too stubborn to let it take. I made a few loose friends during school hours, and that was everything I knew about being social. And I was satisfied with that. Frequently, I was lonely and my imagination grew to fill the space. That’s how I coped.

 

Anyway, that was over ten years ago. It’s kind of embarrassing that I’ve been looking forward to the reunion for around five years at the point it was announced. I had developed a few ideas about reunions that likely fit with my emotional state through a vast number of years after high school. I had misconceptions about the whole thing. I thought two kinds of people went to reunions. First, those that had their best years in High School. That fit with the jealousy I had for people that could navigate the social landscape way better than I ever could. Then, the people that wanted to show everyone how they had changed since High School. I put myself into that group even though I hadn’t changed a ton until two-three years ago. I credit meditation and writing with those changes. Being ignorant in social matters doesn’t work for a writer, writing, and marketing. I was wrong. Popular media is way off.

 

I went as a test for myself and to see people from years ago. There were a few things I needed to know about myself. A personal test motivates me the most. I needed to check if I wanted to talk to people and could overcome my anxiety/insecurity/shyness. Basically, if everything I’d worked on was good enough. Also, I wanted to test if I could use my new communication device in a social setting with real world conditions. And if I could network and hand out business cards. And if having someone driving my chair worked good enough.

 

bulkan-evcimen lced tea table
Photo by Bulkan Evcimen on Unsplash. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

 

I went in with my nurse, a wheelchair driver, and the medical supplies I always have with me. I meet one of the people I’d wanted to see. We had a nice conversation, and I gave a business card. Success! And somehow I engaged in a conversation with someone new I never remembered meeting before. That has never happened in my entire life, if you can believe that. The device wasn’t loud enough in the ambient noise of the reunion. Using the device was much harder with the distraction of the people around but still manageable. A few people called my name and I smiled at them. I had no idea they wanted to talk to me until near the end. Communicating that to my driver was near impossible. I couldn’t think at my best in the slight crowd. I could’ve typed it on my device but it never occurred to me. At that point, I decided to go out to the patio for something different.

 

I meet the other person I’d wanted to see out there. The device didn’t work outside. I tried for a solid 30 minutes it seemed like. Then I figured out having the device up was sending the same message as if I was using my phone. I put the device down and returned to the person I was in High School. I silently nodded and smiled while other people talked in front of me and other people spoke for me. I wanted to talk the whole time though. It was two hours into the reunion by then.

 

I returned to the main reunion room. I would have to leave within thirty minutes to make it into bed sometime before eleven. By eight thirty, I had to leave. A have a ton of medical stuff to do before going to sleep. By the time I was back inside, people were beginning to get drunk. The late arrivals were sober still. I don’t drink and rarely eat anything through my mouth. A few people looked stunned to see me. Another test passed. I could finally read facial expressions.

 

I was disconnected from my emotions, facial expressions, and physical manifestations for so long that determining facial expressions in others was impossible. I always had intense emotions and during high school everything was buried for some degree of normalcy. That hid a large part of the social learning most people were going through in the teen years. That reunion night, I read facial expressions and responded with my own instinctually. I got the expression of stunned then surprise. I hurriedly looked away as she looked into my eyes. Accidentally, they moved up in an eye roll. If anything, I was too honest. You’re surprised I showed up? Well, I don’t care. I’m here, deal with it. At that point, I didn’t have anyone else I’d wanted to see.

 

I wanted to talk to people that used be unapproachable. I could use the device indoors. Typing up phrase before hand is a must at parties and crowded places. Sometimes reading the communication device is easier than hearing what it says sometimes. The backup system is abysmal in comparison, allowing people to speak for me. I need to drive my chair around. Body language is a huge part of social interaction. It’s not something that can be delegated.

 

It was a learning experience, and I’ll never forget it. I’ll fix all the mistakes I made. I rarely make a mistake more than once these days. I’ll figure out this social stuff like I figured out everything else. Nothing can stop me. Hard work can get you anything. Here are a few words about change from Tony Robbins.

 

“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

— Tony Robbins

 

jon-tyson we work motivation poster
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash. Enhancements by Graham Kar.

 

 

Introversion Introspective

 

There is no such thing as a born introvert. I may not be able to point out a specific research article or anything to back me up. But I do have my story. Maybe that’s enough.

 

All of us remember singing or dancing with exuberance as children. An awkward home video of a child singing not very well, what did you expect, not all of us are the next Taylor Swift. I my case it was a magic trick involving a camera cut. I stood there wobbly on my uncooperative ankles. A big flashy toy weapon hung in my hands. The camera cut on cue. I hid said sound weapon in a cardboard box. The camera started again with me holding nothing. A trick of the camera disappeared a toy thing.

 

Other memories of my singing along of ABBA for some ungodly reason. Dancing around with my sister as she spun me around by both hands. Listening to a ton of the Beach Boys, I had no idea what they were singing about. Something changed when I was around other kids my age. I clammed up and became shy. My parents never discouraged that behavior or modeled something different.

tgott-car-scene

Some traumatic event or more realistically a series of such events leads to introversion. The science suggests nature and nurture contributes to the continuum. I was always the smallest, weakest kid, so very few people were always nice to me. This initial trauma forced a tight limit on the number of friends that felt good. For, me that grew into focusing on a few close friends with the general exclusion of others. This started out well and good. The reality doesn’t sink in during childhood. Without exception these first dozen or so friends moved away, and I never saw them again. That’s a traumatic experience if it happens again, again, and again, and I almost forgot again. These friendships were all from my first elementary school.

 

The last two-thirds of sixth grade were in a new school. Unlike my old school, there weren’t many black or brown students let alone teachers, wah wah wahh. Let’s say some people didn’t like me very much as the wheelchair bound Indian kid. One kid, Mathias was showing me the lay of the land. Five dollar mechanical pencils were the equivalent of Letterman jackets. I didn’t really feel like investing in one such meaningless mark of social status. I had the cash but didn’t go there.

 

It was probably stupid considering what I did next. I got a broken Pilot G2 pen from Johnson, fixed the sucker, and never took it out. Then I asked the class jokester to see his whatever mechanical pencil. That kidder told me it was on his desk and I could look at it. Mathias stood right beside him giggling like the funniest thing was happening. I should have seen it as duping delight. That wasn’t on my mind because everyone was so nice. They always looked happy to see me, said Hi insistently, and were really friendly. Like a sap, I cruised down the really long hallway back to the classroom and looked. I was mad. There was nothing there.

 

I’m not trying to make an indictment here. That single event struck a fissure already deeply ingrained from everything before. Mathias and I became friends. I ignored Mr. Joker from then on. I also think the timing had a lot to do with it.

 

Just as the Fates turned on me, six months later they saw me back into their good graces. The school district boundaries changed and my middle school wouldn’t be the general vanilla of Osseo. The relative cornucopia of Brooklyn Junior was my future. That’s when my anti-social period began.

 

I wasn’t looking for friendship any longer. I hit the books for really the first time. I made a few loose friends but no one expect me valued those friendships. My mind turned over this intrinsic human need of companionship to my imagination.

tgott-watching

I watched everything and I mean every single thing going on. Using these observations, I storied their lives as I saw them. As flawed and isolating as this was, it created the components I now use to write. A few interesting characters were Harry, Gwen, and Veronica.

 

Harry was Mr. Cool. I felt he was really struggling in Honors. Basically, Harry was hitting above his average. His wardrobe needed work but the girls loved him as a friend. I could never really talk to girls throughout middle school or high school. Harry was my hero in that way.

 

Gwen was someone I always felt a connection to. I never worked up the courage to say a single word to her. The news got around to me through the usual ways. Did I mention the fact I hear like a bat. Eavesdropping was my skill that sometimes helped but usually kept everyone at arm’s length and gave me enough to feel a connection without interacting. Gwen was in the school play. Years later, I found a lot of similarities, more about that later.

 

Veronica was this person in all my Honors classes. I can probably still describe a ton of things that contributed to my story of her. I thought of her as a girl ahead on the maturity front, more open than most, a social butterfly, and a good person. This has no basis in truth, but I like to think it does.

tgott-detective

Now the part where I un-learn the lessons from all bad stuff delivered my way. I wasn’t that easy, in fact it was the hardest thing I had done up to that point. A few things motivated me to turn back the damage and try again. I lost the physical ability to speak. Very few people know that but there it is. I had stopped going outside and living some time before. The 20’s depression so many millennial’s have, had just ended with the beginning of my fiction writing career. I knew that marketing would be a big part of my future. I needed to escape the cage of my own creation.

 

This reclamation of my social self began with the common social medium of my generation, the attention trap that is Facebook or fb. I friended anyone I recognized from High School and on back, including everyone I imagined knowing. I didn’t recognize a few. This changed nothing because either the request is accepted or ignored. No friend requests are ever declined.

 

Then rejection therapy. I said hi to every single accepted friend. It was an internal battle each and every time. After the first hundred rejections things became a tad easier. I found a few people to talk to.

 

So I’ve exposed the possibility of rejection and faced it en masse. The next step was to learn the social lessons I passed over. I fb messaged like an awkward new-born. I talked about anything that worked. Each message ran a laundry list of worries through my head. Did I say the wrong thing? Should I apologize? This one I agonized over for days and weeks at a time. I projected my conscious into a shade of this friend and searched this new soul to understand what my friend was going through. I agonized, literally agonized this question. I’m not a nice person or a mean person. It isn’t possible to bridge the gap from being okay to being nice with an apology. I spent years ruining friendships thinking I could apologize my way to being a nice person.

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In time, by that I mean years later, I was ready to break through years of social anxiety with a final Karate chop. I made a list of secrets I had always been terrified to share with anyone. It was the usual stuff like bad experiences and the things you cherish the most. I forced myself to type them out and send them like clandestine missives, all on the very brink of a panic attack. My friends are the greatest, and I hope everyone can say that.

 

I went from a child having fun and not knowing better to a cynic with too many bad experiences. Now, I’m a speculative optimistic trying to get back everything I denied for years. People need friends. It might be easy to say forget them. If they can’t appreciate me, it’s their loss. I might be easy to say my friends love me. Do they really or just the part you show them. We all can have epic, radically honest, complete friendships. All we need is the motivation, the guile, and the bravery to confront the possibility of loss. Without that, what is the point to this maddening, meandering, mess we call life. There is no life in a vacuum.

 

Take life into your hands and make it your own. This is one story of my life. Take anything helpful and ignore the rest.

 

GK

Thriving in Spite of Reduced Ability

 

Throughout my life, a few things have remained the same. I have Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive muscular disease that slowly weakens me. This results in a lose of ability over time.

 

I have found things that are inherently impossible for me now. Walking is an example of that. Everything else is possible with motivation and hope of getting better. Those are the two things required to be the person you want to be.

In the beginning of my life (before age eight), I knew there was something different about me and didn’t quite know why. Firstly, I started using a wheelchair. The issue of my emigration from India provided another possible source for my differences. Some version of this probably went through minds of other kids about themselves. Everything changed a little after understanding this wasn’t the end of my difference, things would surely get worse.

 

Let’s be clear about something, I never thought of myself as disabled or damaged. I am just different, like a person with green eyes is different from a person with brown eyes. Never allow another person to define what and how you can do anything. Living without a hindrances is a great gift, but beating what everyone thinks is a greater reward. As with all things, the more effort employed, the better the outcome. This way of thinking changes your perception of yourself. You know for a fact that you are not less able than anyone else. Never put artificial limits on yourself.

 

I have never attended a support group. Almost everything I’ve gone through deals with itself, apart from the first near death experience. This isn’t an ongoing struggle. This is who I am or who I always was. Nothing that comes your way is beyond your ability to cope, whether that means sharing your story with others or dealing with it in your own way.

 

This brings me to my experiences with other kids when I was also that age. Every year throughout high school, I along with other kids struggling with purely physical differences attended a gathering. You know the almost forced gatherings setup by well-meaning adults for discussion.

 

We were asked questions to setup conversation, so-called icebreakers. Would you take a cure if it was available? This is one I remember well. The majority answer was no, excluding myself and one other among the 50 or so others. My reaction to the majority sounds in my head. Why? The answers went something like this: it would change who I am.

 

I reacted with silent cynicism and confusion. This makes no sense. A cure isn’t retroactive (someone won’t go back in time and cure you at birth, anyway that would make a cure much easier). How can you possibly refuse the cure when it is almost my deepest desire? Then it hit me. My 15-year-old self thought they simply can’t hope because the low likelihood hurts them too much. It helps them cope. The disease is an ingredient of who they are. If the question wasn’t hypothetical, they would stop lying to themselves and say yes. That was what a teenager would think. I stopped bothering with other people as I grew older.

 

I now think a cure just administers physical improvement, keeping you the same person inside. If the cure would change more than that, the disease has too much power. That is the generally accepted conclusion, a really bad disease limits what opportunities that person has. I admit that without Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, I would have a different job, but I don’t think my personality would have changed that much. I would be more social than I am now, but isn’t that a good thing? Limitations are a bad thing. Never cripple yourself without trying. A battle that is lost in the mind, is pointless to fight.

 

This post is getting a little too long for one day (hands tired). The key lies in finding your purpose. Take what qualities you have. In my case that is a fighter personality, maximum effort yields maximum results, observation of everything, railing to challenges, and keen memory. Find what you are supposed to do. I am supposed to push through the expectations of others, show them they can do great things, and show them what I can accomplish. Never give up or die trying.

 

GK