The Unruly Past

All pasts are unruly. All pasts resist the tidy, codifying insistence of the page, resist the will of the writer.

Aug 23, 2021

All pasts are unruly. All pasts resist the tidy, codifying insistence of the page, resist the will of the writer.

When I was writing Memory Into Memoir (to be published October 2021) I chose to illustrate writerly concepts with passages, scenes and snippets from my many novels and stories. The University of New Mexico Press editor and other early UNMP readers reminded me that Memory Into Memoir is about writing nonfiction. I maintained (as I always have and always shall) that good writing is good writing, no matter the form.

In one of our Paint Creek the unruly past book coverPress corporate board meetings (Zooming from our respective kitchens, wine glasses in hand) I mentioned to Andrea Gabriel, the CEO, that I had in fact published memoir essays in magazines, literary quarterlies and various anthologies. Andrea suggested, “Why don’t you collect them and we’ll put them in a book, and publish before Memory Into Memoir comes out! Then you’ll have a book of memoirs!”

“Wow, what a good idea! I’ll do it! It won’t take long. I’ll just gather up what I’ve written before.”

Only. . . I discovered to my dismay that many of the memoir essays were from eras long past. They might have once been lively, but they were passé now. Others simply had not aged well. Others, especially those that had begun life as talks delivered at conferences, just wandered all over the place. Except for two short pieces, I trashed most of what I thought would go into the book. All the rest had to be totally rewritten, and/or created or re-created out of a handful of notes.

I love the word unruly. It has sort of ten thousand synonyms, all of them energetic, all of them tinged with defiance.

In the months-long writing process, I was surprised, even astonished to discover how often I made the very same sorts of writerly errors that I had warned against in Memory Into Memoir. Repeatedly, I stumbled on my own writerly questions:  Oh, is that a long passage of narrative where you actually could have written dialogue and scenic depiction, Laura?  Is this a lovely long passage where you have gone totally off topic and narrative-astray? Is this a place where you have in essence promised the reader something dramatic and then failed to deliver? Have you used tired phrases to evade the puddles of what you do not know? Yes, alas. All right then, revise again. Make it better. And in doing so, I came upon new recollections, new clarity, new and unexpected insight about my own life.

In Memory Into Memoir I had assured writers that their work needn’t appear in a straight chronological path, the linear distance between a Then and a Now. My own memoir essays resisted any such chain of events—and yet, they had to go into some sort of order. They’re in a book, after all! Only gradually did these essays assemble themselves, beginning with a necessary preface, and it must be said, some rickety transitions. They were, in a word, unruly.

I love the word unruly.  It has sort of ten thousand synonyms, all of them energetic, all of them tinged with defiance. No one says, “My, what a ruly, well-behaved child you have.” No one says, “This is such a quiet, ruly crowd.” No, there is only unruly. And the unruly is always tinged with defiance. All pasts are unruly. Not just mine. All pasts resist the tidy codifying insistence of the page. All pasts, even the most timid and quiet of lives, will not be easily trussed up into words and pretty sentences, chunky, obedient paragraphs. The past—any past, anyone’s past—is forever balky, contrary, contumacious, noncompliant, fractious, ungovernable, insubordinate, intractable, raucous, rebellious, resistant, recalcitrant, rowdy, wayward and willful.  Thus, the title of my new book of memoirs, The Unruly Past, serves as a sort of canopy over the past in general.

In writing memoir I came upon connections in my life that had never before occurred to me.

My original Fools-Rush-In response to Andrea’s suggestion (“What a good idea! That won’t take long!”) was, in a sense, true. I did this work in a matter of months. I started in early March, 2021, long hours writing, revising, showing the work to trusted, shrewd readers (“Get by with  little help from my friends…”) returning to it with new eyes, and fresh resolve. I turned the final script into Andrea in late July.

And today, August 24th 2021, behold! Publication day! Paint Creek Press presents The Unruly Past: Memoirs. Bring on the bands! The pipers piping! The ladies dancing! The lords a-leaping! The drummers drumming! And let them all be wildly unruly, intractable, raucous, rebellious, resistant, recalcitrant, rowdy, ungovernable, wayward and willful. As Maurice Sendak memorably said, “Let the wild rumpus begin!”

22 Comments

  1. Patty Stephenson

    I can’t wait to read this!!❤️

    Reply
    • Katherine Thomerson

      How do I get the book Laura?

      Reply
  2. Connie Eggers

    This is so exciting! I’m looking forward to reading it.

    Reply
  3. susie woeltjen

    So many memories, so many lives ago – so glad to hear of your new publication , see the familiar names I used to hear from you – including ours . Loved the beautiful names of your grands. Always grateful to hear of your mother. And such a chuckle re Mary Markiole and her mother who used to say “shita.” Much love to you, still my dear friend. You are indeed a wonderful writer and memorable. A privilege to know you . Rooms full of roses – all colors! Much love, Suz

    Reply
  4. Katherine Thomerson

    How do I get the book Laura?

    Reply
    • Susan Greisen

      Laura, I think about all my unpublished essays. One in particular comes to my mind, a story I wrote about my first experience in working with AIDS patients. Now that covid-19 is on the agenda, that story will need to be rewritten. It still has its value but but we’ll need to reflect the current times. So, in other words, it’s not yet ready for the garbage. Thank you for sharing I look forward to reading your book. Susan

      Reply
  5. DebbieBernard

    Woo hoo! Congratulations, and where can I buy this unruly book? Perfect timing! Just ahead of your memoir book! So proud to know you! Cheers and blessings, Debbie

    Reply
  6. Cami Ostman

    So thrilled you’ve done this, Laura!!! I can’t wait to get my hands on both of your new books!

    Reply
  7. Betty Scott

    Wow, wow, wow! Congratulations, Laura. With love, Betty

    Reply
  8. Shannon Hager

    I like unruly. I need more unruly.

    Reply
  9. Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy

    Looking forward to diving into this one, as well as Memory into Memoir. Bring it on!

    Reply
  10. Susan Chase-Foster

    Bravissima! Another rich treat for us readers. I just pre-ordered Memory Into Memoir. While doing so, I searched for The Unruly Past, a bit early I guess, and only found Unruly Paste Plus (for unruly hair) which, in addition to your sure-to- be-delightful collection of memoirs, I also need.

    Reply
    • Jean Waight

      You make me smile and grin, Susan!

      Reply
  11. Joan Lovitt

    Congratulations my dear! Another success I’m sure. So many memories – such good friends. Miss you all!

    Reply
  12. Terry Harrington

    ANOTHER CONGRATULATIONS ADDED TO A LONG LIST OF PUBLISHING CONGRATS TO YOU, DEAR LAURA!

    FOR SO MAYNY YEARS WE HAVE BEEN FRIENDS, AND FOR SO MANY YEARS I HAVE MARVELED AT YOUR LITERARY TALENT!

    AS ALWAYS, CAN’T WAIT TO READ “THE UNRULY PAST”

    Reply
  13. Jean Waight

    Hi Laura, You say what I feared is personal to me–I’m glad to know it’s not! The unruly and writing-resistant even in quiet events–a big thank you.

    Reply
  14. LINDA QUINBY LAMBERT

    Excitement! Your unruly rumpus of a memoir! I look forward to it with wild enthusiasm and unbridged respect.

    Reply
  15. LINDA QUINBY LAMBERT

    Excitement! Your unruly rumpus of a memoir! I look forward to it with wild enthusiasm and unbridged respect.

    Reply
  16. Sabine Sloley

    Sounds like rollicking good fun, Laura. I love that you defend your use of fictional snippets to illustrate memoir writing. Story is story!

    Reply
  17. Linda morrow

    Like so many others…how do I buy a copy? Congratulationd

    Reply
  18. Nancy Tupper

    Two new books of yours—I cannot wait!

    Reply

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