Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
April 17, 2012
Spring in Canyonlands country – cactus about to bloom,
hummingbirds have flown in from the south and are mating.
BUENOS AIRES, UTAH
Fulghum has been away - in Argentina.
For the last several weeks.
That’s why not much has been posted on this website recently.
Not literally in the country of Argentina.
Argentina in memory and imagination.
Explanation – the short version:
Five years ago I spent the winter (their spring-into-summer) in Buenos Aires studying and learning tango dancing.
Besides mastering tango, I intended writing a novel out of the experience.
Neither goal worked out quite as planned.
My tango has improved, but as far as mastering the dance . . . ha.
And a tango novel was written, but set in Seattle, not Argentina.
“If You Love Me Still, Will You Love Me Moving? Tales from the Century Ballroom” was premiered in the Czech Republic last October.
(It’s now in the hands of my agent and publishers in New York.)
The novel in Czech was successful enough to be bought for adaption for the stage – to be opened in a major theater in Prague – in June of 2013.
Meanwhile, most of the material I collected in Buenos Aires lay fallow.
Fermenting in a storage box in Seattle.
Notebooks, essays, stories, letters home, books, and memorabilia.
Once the contracts were signed with the theater production company, I agreed to go to Prague for opening night in June, 2013.
As long as I was going to be there, my Czech publisher wanted me to do some publicity events to support the play, and to support sales of all my books published in Czech.
Yes, why not?
These developments provoked my creative energies.
I wondered: As long as I am going to do that, would there be anything I might write in the way of a new book using the material from Argentina?>
The publisher was enthusiastic; the theater group was enthusiastic.
And I became enthusiastic.
The box of Argentine tango material was shipped down from Seattle.
When I opened the box and looked through it, like Alice In Wonderland, I fell down a rabbit hole, finding myself in Buenos Aires.
The sounds and smells and tastes and times of Argentina came alive.
And so it came to pass . . .
“The Argentine Chronicles of Senor don Roberto Juan Carlos Fuljumero y Suipacha – a Memoir” has been on the front burners of my mind for a month now. Every morning I rise up, look through the Argentina material, pin pieces to the wall of my writing studio, get lost in memory and thought, and write, write, write.
The project is going very well – a rough draft should be finished by May 1.
But it’s been hard to focus – being, as I am, in the mountains of southeastern Utah and in the city of Buenos Aires at the same time.
Usually I write about my immediate, daily experiences wherever I happen to be – which would be Moab, Utah.
However, I’m spending my days and even nights - in Argentina in my mind.
This morning I asked myself if anything I’ve been working on for the memoir could be shared on this website.
Yes. I think so.
Here’s a chapter – maybe two – to begin with:
THE MATTER OF I
Rarely, if ever, does any of my writing begin with the personal pronoun “I.” Not in essays, stories, novels – not even in correspondence.
While my personal experience informs the writing, my purpose is to address and thereby include other people.
The underlying assumption is that questions are being asked:
"Have you ever seen this? Done this? Thought about this?”
I’m making gestures of companionship, not authorship.
The writing is meant to be about us, not me.
Is this just my literary style?
Or a dodgy excuse for avoiding self-revelation?
Or sheer eccentricity?
Who knows for certain?
But, whatever it is, my writing is not personally confessional – never about complex interior feelings regarding sexual experience, family relationships, prejudices, sins and mistakes, or pain.
By my way of thinking, that’s fodder for an encounter with a therapist, not a reader. There’s a lot of that material in memoirs, though, but why add to the glut?
To be honest, aspects of that level of life do get mined and displayed in writing what I safely called “fiction.” It’s easier to go deeper and darker through the lives of fictive characters.
Until now this has been my Way – a workable form of expression.
Now comes this – a memoir – a new genre for me.
A memoir implies the “I” will speak from an “I” point of view.
And doing that has been a struggle – one I had not anticipated.
What I am about to tell you is as far as I can go now.
Maybe someday there will be more – when I am really old.
And have forgotten so much that everything I write and tell will be completely and only fiction.
ON THE NATURE OF A MEMOIR
“What I Did Last Summer” by Bobby Fulghum, September, 1946.
4th Grade, Providence Heights Elementary School; Waco, Texas.
A simple task given her students by a fourth-grade teacher: “Take your memories from the past summer and make something out of them - write one page – whatever and however you choose.”
Simply said, the result is a memoir.
Did you ever write an essay in school about your summer?
My memory of doing that a number of times in my school years is strong. An assignment almost every fall in elementary school, junior high school, and probably even in high school.
How I wish I had those essays now and could read them in sequence.
I bet I would notice a rising quality of self-censorship and self-creation over time. That first memoir would be a virtual confession of most of what I remembered, reported in a haphazard form.
“We went to my grandmother’s house. I hate my grandmother. She whipped me for letting the chickens out. I tore a toenail off playing hide-and-seek. I like watermelon.”
As I grew older, there would have been a more selective choice of what to put in and what to leave out. A realization that there are very important events I would not want to write about, much less tell anybody.
“I’m in love with Louise – we went to the movies a lot – and . . .“
No, cut that part.
One thing I learned in school was that teachers talk to parents.
What you do and say can come around to haunt you.
I also learned that some experiences could be reshaped into the way I wanted to remember them, not exactly the way they really happened. But if they made a good story, the teacher would be pleased.
There – that’s the essence of the memoir process.
Whatever the literary mavens and college professors and book reviewers say in their sophisticated analysis – whatever the publishing categories may be - all the books and courses about memoir not withstanding - the basic task is the same: Take what you remember and know about an episode of your life and make something out of it that other people will read.
A memoir is not a biography, an autobiography, a diary, a journal, or a confession. Yet elements of all those ways of accounting for a life are involved. A memoir is a mixture churned out of anything and everything you did and remember, from however point of view you choose to look at it.
A memoir should not be fiction – not a pack of lies.
A memoir should be based on truth – be fundamentally honest.
Yet, by its nature a memoir is a memory collection.
And all our past memories are creatively reconstructed to suit a narrative of our lives – one we can go on living with – in public and private.
There is no such thing as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – that’s unattainable and probably unbearable.
But one purpose of a memoir is to reach as far as possible for that truth, and bring meaning to it.
A memoir is as plot-less as life itself.
A memoir does not have an orderly time line, but it has a theme.
For example – the theme I’m working from now:
How tango and Argentina were woven into my life in the fall and winter of 2007-8, as expressed in “The Argentine Chronicles of Senor don Roberto Juan Carlos Fuljumero y Suipacha – A memoir.”
That’s a beginning.
It at least lets you in on what’s going on in my mind, here in Buenos Aires, Utah.
What’s the reason for the Senor Fuljumero y Suipacha name?
Next time . . .