I Am Not Anarchist Soccer Mom’s Editor

Even though I am a classroom teacher (and the daughter of one, and the mother of one) I had decided not to write about the Connecticut school shootings. What do I know about suffering, God, evil, loss, mental illness, or gun control that is more than the average person? Nothing.
But I do know a lot about the personal essay form, so I was drawn in to Anarchist Soccer Mom’s blog piece in which she compares one of her children to the shooter. First the entry went viral. Then it was attacked. Why?
I am not Anarchist Soccer Mom’s editor or member of a writing group or teacher, but if I were, I’d take a look. The strongest point in the essay is that she attempts to speak for someone else–in fact for a group of people. And she also speaks for the dead–Adam Lanza’s murdered mother whose thoughts we will never know.
This is a fictional technique. Memoir itself does not have a separate set of rules as another form, such as the haiku, might have. It uses fictional technique to create believable prose. And most literary memoir aims more to be believable than “true.”
This kind of statement upsets my classes. Folks want to tell the truth. But we aren’t journalists. Truth in memoir depends upon that notoriously fickle source–memory. Can you get every member of your family to agree on how an event transpired? I certainly can’t.
So then other writers attack Anarchist Soccer Mom. One “outs” her by reading the rest of her blog–an idea I find very silly, since the blog is there for all to see in any case. And then everyone starts telling her what she can and cannot write, what she can say about her children, her feelings, etc. I find this policing of art odd and oddly American. Personal writing is not done by committee and it does not need to be “fair.”
I was once very amused to read an on-line book club discussion of my memoir “Searching for a Mustard Seed.” In it, someone asked with great irritation–“Why is Sagan ALLOWED to write about this.” As the topic was the death of my husband Robert and young widowhood I certainly hadn’t stolen the material. I suspect the reader’s question had to do with the fact that I wasn’t famous or a celebrity.
So granted, Anarchist Soccer Mom is allowed to write about whatever she likes. However, her piece created some reservations in me too. I think it has to do with how she located herself, her persona. I didn’t totally believe it. That is, it all may be perfectly true but the speaker wasn’t fully developed, the material not digested. Granted, this is a blog, off the cuff. And the writer was in dangerous water. So hats off to her for doing her best.
But I’ll just say what all writing teachers say–slow it down, create a curve, add what Natalie Goldberg calls original detail ( do I believe those knives in the Tupperware?), and give it some meaning beyond the stated aims of the speaker. That is, make it art. This is what I tell myself. And as I may never know what is objectively true, I’ll go for what I hope touches the reader’s heart.

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