2011 in one of my fits over the use of real lives as scaffolding for commercial *fiction, I wanted to do something. There is no law or social agreement that a movie or book, labeled bio-doc or biography, stay on any historic course. Additions, omissions, artificial plot devices creating required arcs are just part of the landscape.
My push back was to write a full life memoir (I was advised in no uncertain terms to NOT use the word autobiography a la james frey). I spent a year organizing my chronology and writing.
I had no intention of ever printing it but a friend asked and my kick campaign financed it. It was an experience I recommend though motive is the lynchpin; a whim will never see one through. I was not driven by self-importance but a red-hot desire to show respect for those who dig and search and glue and list and listen to a person’s life so it can be shared. I have been on excavations for Gandhi, Magdalene, Kahlo and Paul. It is a Sisyphean task. No ending in sight.
I learned many things in my year of writing about my life but mostly I learned that ending such a book is outlandish. It is an imposed and insincere writing destination. (invoking the great Lillian Hellman’s title, An Unfinished Woman). It imposed an inaccurate idea that December 2012 was an ending of sorts. It is as if August 26, 1920 Alice Paul was done, like a quilt. And how many of us are despondent when a book ends, shouting what then? What then?
Now is a curious time for books. It is the reversal of printed books’ birth when paper was cheap and literacy on the rise. Today, paper usage is declining and technology drives our attention. Books are delivered to devices silently, poured through headsets, loaned with an expiration date. Monopolies are dictating who is read and who is tasked with distributing their own work. It is Jeff Bezos who decides, not a refined educated editor on Avenue of the Americas. Authors United may want to rise up against this Amazon but the reality remains, Napster already told the modern day story of the intersection of Art and Industry. (maybe books with ads – but isn’t that the disappearing literary magazine?)
Lately I have been thinking about episodic writing. It is all the rage on TV as water-cooler heads ask what the hell is happening on Leftovers. Even Sundance is currently holding a lab on episodic writing as movie goers beg Mr. Big and Carrie to report in. Who can even think about anything else but Pats and Edina coming to the silver screen.
It was good enough for Dumas and his 139 installments of The Count of Monte Cristo. Good enough for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 40 weeks of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Installment writing also informed the storyteller what was riveting and what was a snooze. They could take it all into consideration or not. In fact, wiki lists 764 novels delivered in installments. Take that Mr. Bezos!
Titillating interest delivered on the internet in episodes? Oh the tragedy bibliophiles lament. And yet it is already in full swing on your iphone and android with Juke Pop, Wattpad and Fiction Press. 2015 we are going to learn a whole new way to tell our stories and, most importantly, to store our stories. Our ancestors might have had elders as libraries, sitting around a blazing fire but we will learn a whole new way in the doing. Life after all, is episodic.
*Iron Jawed Angels and Milk