Ponderings by Henri Bensussen, MCWC board member and
Mendocino Quill's editor, a.k.a. The Maven
Henri serves on the board of the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She worries endlessly, fruitlessly, and in between writes tragic poetry and comical short stories.
The Maven stood at the “Writing” section of Gallery Bookstore holding Robin Hemley’s “A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, and Travel.” Immersion writing? Is that like taking a diving bell to the water-logged basement of one’s buried history, or was it jumping head-first into a mysterious pudding of fantastical experience? She flipped the pages to get a sense of it; Hemley had been on the faculty of the 2012 MCWC. His face beamed from the back cover conveying earnest good will.
“A Field Guide” begins by defending memoir (“The Vertical Pronoun”) and laying out ways an author can “put his/her life in perspective” using various structures to shape the story. Immersing the memoir within a travel narrative or a journalistic investigation builds interest and provides a frame. The Maven enjoyed a fleeting moment of imaginative energy as she considered how she might shape her memoir through immersion.
Grabbing her wallet, she bought the book. You’d think a shelf full of such tomes would be sufficient for any writer, but that’s the sane response. For those who depend on logic but fail to understand the realities offered by this world, there’s always something to learn in a new book, even if it’s old news.
At home, sitting in the back garden, the Maven read more of the Intro, pen in hand and paper at the ready. A mockingbird imitated a song sparrow, then flew to the cottonwood tree, which waved its long, thin fingers of green leaves as though dropping a blessing on her head along with its cottony strings of seeds.
“Not only is the self worth investigation and including on the page,” she read, “but it is perhaps the only way to approach those slippery terms of honesty and authenticity.” As for truth? An impossibility. The Maven pictured it slipping into a sea of memories, irretrievable as an unsaved document. She would not worry about truth, she decided, but focus instead on these higher, more realistic virtues. The mockingbird chimed in, this time imitating a vireo.