Wednesday, January 7, 2009
autobiographical cold feet
I just heard five minutes ago from Knopf (Random House) that my new book AFTER THE FALLS will be published this fall. It is volume two of my memoir series. TOO CLOSE TO THE FALLS was the first volume and covered my life as a child from four to fourteen. My new volume covers ages fourteen to twenty one.
I am sitting at my computer hyperventilating and sipping cold decaf coffee. Now everyone is going to read what a whack job I was as a teenager. I never had to worry about embarrassing myself with the childhood volume because no matter how strange I was, I was still 'just a kid'. Eccentric children can be engaging, especially if they wear cowboy suits. Nothing is really bad because you are exploring the world and sometimes things don't work out as planned. That is part of what makes childhood so entertaining. However, when you are a teenager, you are supposed to have some common sense. Look at these two pictures above and you can see what I'm getting at. I mean that hair style is right out of the TV show I Remember Mama or else some bad Bergman made for TV special shown only in the Fjords.
It isn't only the photographs, although they tell their own story, I go from longing to be a country club member to longing to blow up county clubs. I go from sweater sets in 1966 to getting labelled as a subversive sympathizer by the FBI in 1968. Actually that isn't so bad either. Almost everyone in the 60's had dramatic changes from bourgeois to hippie--politicized.
What is particularly close to the bone is the initiation into an interest in the opposite sex. Learning how to flirt, and how to be 'a date' was all so painful. Why??--because I didn't do it remotely correctly. I simply didn't get it. Since I have a really good memory I could sit at my computer and conjure up each idiotic sequence and describe them in all of their slow Technicolour idiocy. When I was writing TIGHTROPE alone in my third floor study, I was so concerned with getting the details down, that I never once asked myself if I wanted to have people read about my adolescent fumbling. If I had thought then of the public actually reading the book, I never would have written the unvarnished truth. It's too late to turn back now. My only hope is that everyone else was as hopelessly naive as I was and it has simply never come up on conversation. Without giving away anything in the book, I can picture a reader from a small town near Medicine Hat reading it and exclaiming, "You didn't know that!
The second thing I worry about is how mean I was to my parents, particularly my compassionate, kind father. I never once gave the guy a break. I refused to listen to him--ever. In those pre-Walkman, pre-ipod days, I wore a hair dryer around my home and when he spoke, I turned it on so that the plastic hood would fill with air and he was rendered into a mime performance. I didn't do this for one or two years but for all of my teenage years.
When I was crossed by someone, I spent inordinate time 'paying them back' for 'their crime.' I never once remember crying, I only retaliated to any pain with rage. Now that I know that thousands of people are going to read about my misanthropic shenanigans, I am nervous. I hope that I have captured the teenage voice enough so that my sadism is slightly comprehensible to someone not in the throws of adolescent angst.
I guess these last minute cold feet are the exact reason why most people write fiction and not autobiography. Fiction writers can always claim the embarrassing dating encounters were only flights of fancy, and that the cruelty to the only parents you'll ever have was simply based on an overactive imagination. I can make none of these claims.
Of course I'm going ahead with the sequel and actually writing this blog has calmed me down. In the end the only real crime is not capturing the teenage years as they really were.