Getting Meta With Memoir 

Huntington Beach, California, circa 1982. Clockwise from top left: Rich C., The Author Himself, Jim H., Eric D., Rich J. Photo taken by Michelle Romanello

It’s been the better part of two months since I hit the button to make this blog go live. Actually, I set this page up about a year ago, after hearing over and over again that a writer absolutely has to have a blog these days. And since I’d started picking up some freelance work, I wanted an online portfolio for potential clients. So I created my WordPress account and bought the chduryea.com domain (chrisduryea.com was taken–by another writer with my name, go figure).

I dabbled with it on and off, playing with formats and layouts, taking comfort in the fact that my little blog was in “sandbox” mode–not visible to the world and his brother and would stay that way until I hit the button telling it to go public. After all, I was still learning how to do all this stuff. I needed material to practice on as I got used to the mechanics of WordPress, and chapters from my memoir project The Harrison Files were of the right length and gathering virtual dust on my hard rive, so I uploaded a few for the purposes of fiddling around.

I was unsure whether or not I would end up doing anything with this blog at all. I messed around with it, then life got complicated and I somewhat forgot about it for a while. So for better part of a year, it just sat there–and chduryea.com sent back an error message to anyone who tried to access it. Not that anyone did.

Then came the sudden passing of Carrie Fisher and the release of Rogue One, two events that struck me to the core of my very geeky nature, albeit in very different ways. I wanted to get some thoughts down about both–and I started to think it was time to put those thoughts out there. So I wrote a few reflective pieces and uploaded them. And without giving it much thought, I made the entries public, and swept the rest of the material I had there along with it.

In that time I’ve enjoyed watching the numbers of views and likes, and have been pleased with some initial positive feedback. I had no expectation that my little exercise in memoir would get any attention at all, and I was planning to take it down. But then people started to respond. People started to comment. People were actually reading the damned thing! So I left it up, though I’ve now moved it a separate “Memoir” page to differentiate it from my errant blogging.

So I’ve decided to keep The Harrison Files going–for now. That said, it presents me with a couple of bits of quandry.

I started writing The Harrison Files a long time ago. Most of what I have uploaded so far is close to a quarter century old. I have a good dozen chapters already–with many more outlined. And that’s Quandry #1. The difference between my old writing and my new is kind of jarring, and the addition of new material makes the work read as somewhat schizophrenic. At least it does to me–I have no idea if anyone else would even notice. But because I notice, I feel the strong impulse to revise each new chapter (heavily, I might add) before publishing it. I think that revising would bring a greater sense of unity to the work, but might do so at the cost of the freshness of these early chapters, written at a time when I had much greater recall of the events in question.

Quandry #2 has more to do with the specific content of The Harrison Files. Most of what I’ve written so far has been done so under the assumption that no one but me would ever read it. The memoir was only for me–an exercise in narcissistic, navel-gazing, self-involved, creative non-fiction as therapy. As a consequence, I regularly sacrificed objective fact on the altar of subjective truth and narrative expediency. That gave me a slight pause when I uploaded the first installments.  Would readers notice me bending the facts? And how would my characterizations of the people around me be received, particularly by those being characterized? Until recently, it wasn’t something I had to worry about.

But I actually have to think about this now.

While the opening chapters of The Harrison Files deal with a critical period in my life, the events portrayed are, objectively, pretty mundane. The meat of these early entries focuses on my internal life. For the most part, the people around me are stage setting–bit players and autobiographical foreshadowing. My literary treatment of them is not always the most nuanced or forgiving. I could try to make excuses for this. I could say that any insensitivity or snark with which I present my supporting cast could be forgiven by the fact that I don’t spare myself either. Though it was growing, my social circle in late 1980 was still very small. As such, most of my mental energy was fixated on myself, temporarily sparing my family and friends my sometimes less-than-generous attentions.

That’s all about to change.  The upcoming chapters are going to get into increasingly heavy territory. As my social gravity well deepens and becomes more complex, others will take a greater and greater part in the story’s unfolding. Many of these people are still in my life–at least as Facebook friends–and may very well end up reading this stuff.

So again–do I revise with this new audience in mind? Do I stop with The Harrison Files altogether? Go back to making it for my eyes only? It’s probably too late to change all the names and start calling it fiction. And besides, that would negate most of the reasons I had for writing it to begin with.

These are questions I guess any memoir writer has to answer at some point.

And I could agonize over them indefinitely. But that would just be more navel-gazing. And really, the answer is pretty simple.

Memoir is not a genre for the timid. It takes guts to throw your story out there for all the world to see. To edit the work I’ve already done would do a disservice to my story and disrespect everyone who inhabits it, including me. The unvarnished truth is always the more powerful. Not always the most accurate–but the most worth reading. So I will continue as I’ve been doing, editing for consistency of format, but essentially leaving the rest alone.

So there it is. You have been warned.

P.S. In case you haven’t realized it by now, this is really just a plug for The Harrison Files‘s new home–under the “Memoir” tab at the top of this page. If you had already figured that out, congratulate yourself on your smartness and keep it to yourself. Nobody likes a show-off.

UPDATE, 5/15/17: For those of you with any interest, I decided to go with the material pretty much as written, with small edits for stylistic flow, etc. The content will remain unchanged. As for names, I have decided to keep them as they appeared in the real world of my experience. However, I have dropped the last names of many minor players, and changed the first names of some to avoid an undo amount of same-name confusion (my life did feature a plethora of Todds, Richards, and Mikes during that time).

Jeanette Winterson once wrote, “I’m telling you stories. Trust me.”

I’m beginning to get a sense of what she meant.

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