My daughter-in-law Gingerlily reads blogs and is one of the several urging me on, in this department. “Use bits from your books,” she suggests. Hmm. Last week I mentioned my proclivity for narrative nonfiction (NN) to “let life do the plotting.” However, one must be careful (as is true for memoir and autobiography, as well) to not allow author to get in the way of the story itself. I avoid this pitfall by means of poking fun at myself . Take my publication Volume 1 of Here, There & Otherwhere.
One story is about a classroom of junior high students who played on me a trick of resounding success. I’d asked for help in cluing a crossword puzzle with words from the three languages unknown to me but native to the various youngsters in my classroom on Saipan. They collaborated to give me inappropriate words in the Chamorro, Carolinian, and Palauan I’d asked for to produce such innocent synonyms in English as “boat” and “fisherman” and “reef.” Ignorant (“clueless”?), I created with considerable pride a crossword puzzle with clues (in three languages) such as “ass” and “breasts” and similar words that elicited no hint of a completed puzzle but much mirth. I could be angry, when the antic revealed itself after my handing out the crossword I’d spent hours to devise, a puzzle complete with bogus clues in three languages—or I could grin, collect the still-blank crossword sheets, and admit, “You got me.”
In another tale entitled “Predator and Prey,” I’m to be the cook for a dozen junior- and senior-high youngsters for a two-week campout in Thailand’s high jungle. I am in real life several things, a few of which might possibly be prideworthy, but I am not a cook. Therefore—nonfiction, you know—I objected to this responsibility in real life and therefore in the story—but was overruled. Of course I can cook—I’m a woman. The ensuing meals were late and largely disastrous, but it was fun tossing into the otherwise very active and unpredictable story repeated allusions to this lack of prowess.
Also in Volume 1 are two stories placed in northern Italy, both revolving on my ignorance of the culture (including language). In “Please Don’t Squeeze,” my faux pas lies in having the temerity to let my fingers touch the produce—apparently a serious no-no in (at least) that part of Europe. In “Dove Milano?” Well, I spent a whole night traversing northern Italy shore to shore by car as a result of geographic as well as linguistic ignorance—and paying out to autostrade attendants enough to leave each of the many smiling broadly.
Anyway, I try to use humor when referring to my own roles in narrative nonfiction. Even when seated all night alone in the jungle, waiting for a tiger on a roofed porch twenty feet up in the air (a machan) and needing—absolutely having to use a restroom. . . .
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