The annual Woodstock Writers Festival ended yesterday. The last panel on Sunday is always Memoir a Go-Go moderated by Martha Frankel, executive producer of the festival. Martha’s a writer herself. She wrote a memoir about her gambling addiction a few years back that I liked a lot. It’s called Hats & Eyeglasses.
The memoirists on her panel included a psychic, a harem wife turned New York City mom with a rock star husband and an adopted son from Ethiopia, and a screen actress who loved and was loved by John Kennedy Jr. during college. Their stories were remarkable, of course, but what struck me about these women (including Martha) was that they’re not just writers, they’re healers, moms, producers, actresses too. Hearing their stories made me feel better. Sometimes I worry that the time I spend writing distracts me from my song writing and vice versa. I wonder if I can really do both. They made me feel like I can.
When memoirists gather to talk about memoir one of the questions that always comes up is how do I write about my family? Someone always says I don’t want to hurt the people I love. Some people even worry about lawsuits or retribution and their fear stops them from even starting to write.The advice more experienced writers always give is Write it anyway. You’ll edit later and deal with those people then. We also talk about how even significant details in the same story can be different depending on who’s telling it. My friend Gail Straub describes how her sister responded to her memoir about their mother. They were close in age so they lived in the same house at the same time, yet her sister’s memory of what happened during a particular scene is entirely different So who’s right?
For me, the memoir panel is always the most inspiring. I love hearing people’s stories. I love hearing what they say about how badly they needed to write and how they managed to do it when they had no time or what they thought was no talent. Mostly I love the feeling of being excited about my own writing. I want to get home as soon as I can and write my own story.
At this moment, Dave Cook and I are in his studio in Saugerties, New York mixing a re-recorded version of my song “Heaven” for the third time. What I want to write about in a book, in a blog, wherever I can, is what a mix is, what it’s like to make music in a recording studio, why I’m mixing this one song so often, and how this and other songs I’ve written came to life to begin with. I want to tell anyone who will listen about the thrill I felt the first time I walked into a studio for the first time when I was twenty-one: all the blinking red lights, the leather couches, the dryer-sized tape machines in glass-enclosed closets on the far side of the control room, and the dreams coming to life in my heart. These are all things I’ve experienced and I want to share them; infect someone else with my excitement. This is memoir to me: one person bringing another into their world and turning them on.
Right now I’m distracted and want to pay attention to every move Dave makes in the studio today. I’ll let you know when the songs are ready, and someday, with luck, I’ll let you know about the book.
PS The writers on Martha's panel were Suzan Saxman, Christina Haag, and Jillian Lauren.