a memoirist’s lament

January 30th, 2012

“Too many notes.” — Emperor Joseph II’s criticism to Mozart

Truth is, I don’t consider anything I’ve ever written to be a memoir. I don’t even think I tell stories. I un-tell stories. I unwind plots. I silence my narrator. I do this by listening.

I’m not the virtuoso on the stage. I’m the emperor in the audience. Dumb, dull, and frankly, unimpressed by the racket.

When I write I call myself a diamond cutter. That sounds fancy until you realize that it’s usually just a hairy guy with a chisel. Perhaps I should call myself a sausage stuffer. Some days I’m more like an orange juicer. The point is, I have something in my hands, something we all have — blood, bones and guts — and my job is to turn it into something else. A gem. Or a healthy part of a balanced breakfast.

I start writing when I am sick of my story, sick of its sound, smell and taste. And so I cut it open, air it out, let it go, and then it turns into a larger story, one I hadn’t ever heard before, spilling across the page. It becomes everyone’s story, which we call the truth. And then it’s done.

I’m not even interested in other people’s stories, especially if by page 153 it’s obvious that they aren’t going to turn it into something else. These are the books I don’t finish. Nonfiction that makes itself sacred becomes a lie. Yes, I understand you are still very sad/angry/confused. Write back when you get work.

So imagine my surprise when I saw who’s visiting Butler University in Indianapolis on Feb. 15.

Zen memoirist Karen Maezen Miller
“Memoirs of a Zen Priest”
Talk and book signing
Wednesday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m.
The Efroymson Center for Creative Writing
Butler University, Indianapolis

Come anyway, come anyway! It’s free and open to the public. I’ll be talking about oranges, with sausages on the side.

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  1. I love those images of what you do when you write. I for one am very grateful for all that you produce: the sausages, the orange juice, and the diamonds.

    Comment by Lindsey — January 30, 2012 @ 5:16 pm

  2. Laugh.

    Comment by Paul Brennan — January 31, 2012 @ 6:21 am

  3. Hello! I have just been reading the reviews of you book Mother Zen on Amazon and just found out you blog as well…can’t wait to read your posts,

    Comment by Rosaleen Carter — January 31, 2012 @ 11:05 am

  4. LAUGHING!!!!!!!!!

    Comment by Hannah Marcotti — January 31, 2012 @ 11:41 am

  5. Hurray! I will finally get to see you on your visit to Butler University. I live about an hour away and look forward to this special evening. Thanks for letting me know!

    Comment by Jeanne — February 3, 2012 @ 5:37 am

  6. I knew I was reading this on this busy morning when I should already be in the shower for a reason! Now, how to get out of work….

    Comment by claire — February 10, 2012 @ 4:30 am

  7. “I’m not the virtuoso on the stage. I’m the emperor in the audience. Dumb, dull, and frankly, unimpressed by the racket.” Hmm. I saw you speak once and you hardly stopped talking and dancing for 3 hours. It seemed like you were the virtuoso on stage, and pretty enamored with the Karen show.

    Comment by Francie Maglene — February 21, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

  8. Yes, Francie, I remember you, although that’s not your real name. I just can’t imagine what brings you here. More torture?

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — February 21, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

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