Just this past week I’ve been gobbling up memoirs. As opposed to autobiographies which chronicle an entire life, memoirs focus in particular on one aspect of a person’s life.
Memoirs: Steve Martin Born Standing Up (2007)
I love stand-up comedy and just happened on Steve Martin‘s account of his 18 years doing stand-up: ten learning, four refining and four in wild success with his wacky humor: the arrow through the head, making balloon animals, King Tut, “I am a wild and crazy guy” and other nonsense.
I loved his memoir which culminates: “In 1981 my act was like an overly plumed bird whose next evolutionary step was extinction.” He was in Las Vegas playing the Riviera. As his eyes scanned the showroom he notes, “I saw something I hadn’t seen in five years: empty seats. I had reached the top of the roller coaster.”
Not much later, he quit stand-up.
He explains his decision by way of a conversation he had with a painter friend where they compared psychoanalysis with the making of art.
Martin: “Both require explorations of the subconscious, and in that way they are similar.”
Friend: “But there is a fundamental difference between the two. In psychoanalysis, you try to retain a discovery; in art, once the thing is made, you let it go.”
Martin came to understand his stand-up act as a thing made. He quit it “as a way to trick myself into further creativity.”
Well done, Steve!
Memoirs: Russell Brand Recovery. Freedom From Our Addictions (2017)
Russell Brand has been substance-abuse-free since December 2002. He has been vocal and often elegant in his descriptions of his former addictive behavior, the causes of his former behavior (while never letting himself off the hook) and the hope of recovery he offers for all addicts. I loved his Guardian 2014 op-ed in the wake of the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman from a drug overdose.
In Recovery Brand tells the story of his experience with each of the Twelve Steps laid out in Alcoholic Anonymous.
Near the end of the book (Step Twelve) there’s a fabulous scene involving a drug addict named Gruffy and a National Health Service hospital in London. It’s delirious and gripping and worth the read.
I enjoyed the whole book and endorse Brand’s diagnosis a drug addict seeks connection. I’ve said the same over and over about love and language.
Memoirs: Nora Ephron. I Hate My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman (2006)
Who didn’t love When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and Julie & Julia? Ephron was the screenwriter for all three, the producer for the first and third and the director for the second and third. So now I’m going to read a talented and funny writer writing on women and aging. How could I go wrong?
I didn’t go wrong, but all I can say is I didn’t really connect with any of the 15 stories.
The opener “I Hate My Neck” was exactly what you’d think: a story about the futility of Restylane and Botox because a woman’s neck tells her age no matter how much stuff she pumps into her face, and there’s really nothing you can do to your neck short of a neck lift. But then a neck lift requires a face lift, and what woman wants her face pulled back?
I would have thought I’d be totally in sync with her lamentations on her aging face and body, her acceptance of some cosmetic procedures and her refusal of others. But I wasn’t. I didn’t care.
It could be that I’m still in the midst of my Reclaiming Creativity Quest guided by Julia Cameron’s Vein of Gold and recently worked with my Secret Selves. In one exercise Cameron has you identify five secret selves (some not so secret) and convene them like a Board of Directors. Then ask them questions.
I actually posed this question to my Board within the past couple of weeks:
“Will age matter going forward?”
Wanderer: “Not a bit, you will have even more liberation.”
Linguist: “Now you will have to concentrate even harder.”
Stand-Up Comedian: “Not really, this is the time to hone your craft.”
Socialite: “Upkeep, Dahling! Lots and lots of upkeep.”
Diplomat: “You will need to keep yourself relevant and up to date.”
So, only 1/5 of me, namely the Socialite, cared about the physical issues Ephron was writing about, while 2/5 were untroubled (Wanderer & Comedian) and the other 2/5 (Linguist & Diplomat) addressed more psychological issues – just as any stage in life has its psychological profile. Useful!
In one story Ephron describes the vicious cycle of doing exercise, then hurting one part of her body, healing, doing exercise and then hurting another part of her body. She apparently lifted weights so incorrectly at one point that she ended up with frozen shoulders for two years.
“Hey, Nora! Ever heard of yoga?”
Then there were the New York City stories and a particularly long one about a rent-controlled apartment she once loved. Sure, there is such a thing as a New Yorker who must live in New York and can only live in New York. I also understand why they would think NYC is the Center of the Universe. I get it. But I am simply not one of them, so for all the NYC stories it was, “Meh.”
My lack of connection did not blind me to the reality that Ephron is a talented writer and this collection of stories is solid and holds together.
Huge payoff: In “On Rapture” Ephron writes of her love for the book The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I have now downloaded it. It’s next up.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen