How Art Talks to Art

21 05 2015

Originally blogged from my official site:

The choice to make my memoir a mixed-genre book was a surprisingly easy one to make. Back when I was sure it was going to be a straightforward memoir, a writer friend and colleague of mine suggested, half-kidding (I think? She jokes a lot so it’s hard to tell sometimes), “Is it gonna be mixed genre? Throw in some poems? Yeah? Yeah! You know it!” Sure, I had thrown around the idea of making my memoir a mixed-genre book but never seriously thought about it. When I went home that day, I looked at my poems — and also some of the few fiction pieces I had written  — and saw that some of them naturally fit with the pieces in my memoir, like how continents fit together.

I thought it was a pretty neat idea, writing a mixed-genre memoir. I certainly wasn’t the first to do it either. Amber Dawn’s memoir, How Poetry Saved My Life, includes both memoir and poetry. More recently, Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, features essays, haikus, and other odd little pieces of writing. Bossypants by Tina Fey includes the Sarah Palin/Hilary Clinton SNL script that became famous.

My memoir contains, poetry, a short script, a short play, song lyrics, and, of course, memoir. I know it might seem strange to include fiction, and I’ve tried to explain it concisely as I’ve could in the queries and book proposals I’ve been sending out, in an effort to make publishers and editors see that I’m not just a weirdo novice writer who is scrapbooking my greatest hits. But it’s difficult because I feel like it requires a bit more explanation. So if you’re a publisher trying to figure out why you have a multi-genre memoir thing on your desk, here’s your answer.

I made a short film called Stay, which is about two Chinese-Canadian gay men and what happens when one of them refuses to stay the night. You don’t need to know anything about me to watch this film (in fact, it’s on YouTube). After watching it (or before, really), if I told you that my first boyfriend was Chinese-Canadian and in the closet, and that we never had a night together, how does that change your reading/interpretation of the Stay? (Does the film come across as a fantasy/hope if the real same had stayed the night?) How does Stay reveal autobiography as a work of fiction? What can you suggest about why I decided to write and make the film?

Maybe it’s just the English major in me, the one that constantly analyzes things for meanings, but these are the kind of questions I like to ask — and I’d like people to ask — when reading my work. Not everyone will want to think this deeply, for sure, but I think they’re good questions to ask.

Here’s another way to put it. I recently watched a documentary called National Gallery, made by Frederick Wiseman. At one point in the film, a worker at the National Gallery in London explains how paintings and works “talk to each other.” When looking at a painting on its own, he says, you may have one interpretation. When put next to another painting, it causes you to reinterpret both paintings; you notice things you didn’t notice before. They both mean different things.

That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with my mixed-genre book. I’m trying to show readers a different way — my perspective — of looking at not just my straightforward memoir pieces, but all the other kinds of writing and art that I do and make. I believe that this reveals a lot more about a person that a simple memoir, and as someone who feels constantly misunderstood (or not understood at all), I relish the opportunity to give people this special insight. And it’s not just me trying to boast to everyone that I can write a script and a play (although that is an added bonus).

Hope that makes sense. I feel like it will make more sense once my book is available and people can read it for themselves (hint hint, publishers). What are your thoughts? Do you think a mixed-genre memoir is a good idea?


Light on the Piano

8 04 2011

Somehow I’m writing about this again.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I woke up at around 5am the other night and because my door is open a bit to let my kitty in and out of the room (she sleeps with me at night) and thought that the light to the kitchen was turned on since sometimes my mom wakes up at night to have a drink of water.  But as I tried to go back to sleep, the light was on for a little too long and when I sat up in bed, I saw that in fact the light on top of my piano was on.  The light itself isn’t a switch but there’s a small bulb at the base that you touch and hold down for half a second or so and the light will turn on.

This isn’t the first time the light’s turned on by itself overnight.  The first time it happened, my mother swore some sort of spirit or ghost or something turned it on.  This time, she simply dismissed it as my cat having clambered up my piano and touched it.  However, my kitty doesn’t climb up on my piano (or at least I haven’t seen her do it) and for her to specifically touch the bulb… I don’t really buy it.  I also wondered whether or not she could even turn the lamp on with her paws so I experimented and made her touch it and yeah, it worked so I suppose it is still possible.  I’m still doubtful though.

That night, as I tried to go back to sleep, thinking that there might be some sort of spirit in our living room, I eventually came up with an idea for a short film about a ghost trying to play the piano but being unable to open the lid of the piano.  There are some other details as well that I’ve thought of and I wrote it all down but it’s still in the works.  It would be really simple to make though, and I’m excited about the possibility of actually turning it into film, especially since it only involves one room and very few characters, all set at night (which might be hard…), etc.  We shall see.

When I looked back on it, I guess I found it a little surprising I was able to take away something like an idea for a short film at 5 in the morning just by seeing that the lamp on my piano was turned on.  Inspiration is out there!  You just gotta look for it.

My piano