Our life writing class this week looked at memoir versus fiction – yes James Frey came up! We were given first page extracts and had to decide if we thought they were fiction, memoir or creative non-fiction. Interestingly my initial litmus test was not to scrutinise style or level of detail although that did follow, but to ask myself am I bored? If the answer was yes then it was a memoir! I think I can confidently wave good-bye to any future as a literary expert/agent.
We were then asked to do some life writing, a memoir and I shall reproduce my effort in a moment but the major revelation for me this week came during the class discussion after the exercise. Sam asked us what our starting point for our writing had been; what had been easy, what had proved difficult and one lady (I am ashamed I cannot remember her name…Barbara?) said that she wanted to entertain. Whammo! Actually that was the polite version. Fuckko! I realised that I had deliberately chosen an event that I was sure I could make funny because my overriding motivation is to entertain. But more basic than even that; I want to be read. I am desperate to be read and enjoyed, and have my words and my thoughts and my stories cooed over, awed and oh-ed over. I want to be discussed over wine and under the duvet. Perhaps there is a little of the exhibitionist in me after all.
Here is the memoir exercise. Again I have tried to minimise the editing so that what is reproduced here is the rough version cooked up in class.
It once took me 72 hours to travel from Edinburgh to Barcelona which may have been realistic if I was driving, but I wasn’t. I was flying. Easyjet. Who for once are the heroes not the villains of the scene.
Unusually for me I was on prescription drugs. Not that I am normally found on non-prescription drugs; just that I don’t really do drugs. Although overweight and suffering from lack of exercise, I am pretty darn healthy. I was on a particularly heady concoction called Zyban which I was taking to stop smoking. Zyban was originally developed and marketed as an anti depressant drug, however clinical study and historical data was collated and turns out that everyone is still depressed but they’ve all stopped smoking! I would have loved to seen that memo to the marketing department.
As with all legal drugs, Zyban is sold with a little booklet which lists an impressive array of side effects that, forgive the lack of memory for exactitude here, were organised into ‘normal’, ‘some cause for concern’ and ‘call your GP/ambulance/chosen funeral director’.
Passing into the second phase of taking Zyban where you increase your daily dose from one to two tablets a day, I had experienced only one side effect; total insomnia. I’m not talking about ‘oh-yawn-I-didn’t-get-much-sleep’, I am talking about insomnia in its purest form, absolute lack of sleep. I was hopeful that my sojourn in Spain with friends and Cava would counteract this or at least provide me with four new walls to stare at through the night.
The increased dosage however brought on an immediate second side effect, pretty bad chest pain and shortness of breath. I couldn’t even sleep it off! That was one of the longest nights in my life and the irony that it was the proposed cure and not the fags causing this was not lost on me.
Raised as an obedient child without ever asking why, I knew from the booklet that I needed to call my GP/ambulance/chosen funeral director in the morning. I figured if I called from the airport the most I would have to endure would be to stop taking the tablets and start smoking again (woo-hoo!).
Having checked in and handed over my luggage I was free to buy some tabloid rags for my friends in Barcelona and magazines for the flight. It is not an easy thing to pull of but I managed to saunter jauntily to the news kiosk whilst holding my chest and gasping for breath; without dislodging the little splinters of matches cunningly covered in make-up propping up my eyelids, or the cellotape and haemorrhoid cream duo that was valiantly trying to minimise the hold-all capacity of the bags under my eyes. I was looking pretty good. As I sauntered with crowds parting before me and all first aiders in a two mile radius sniffing an imminent recovery position, I called my doctor. My doctor at the time was a harried and socially challenged, permanently windswept by-product of medical training bred solely for the NHS whose dislike for me was tempered only by my dislike for her.
When she came on the phone I gave her the gist and carte blanche to tell me what to do. I was not ready for the answer which was “go straight to hospital, I am arranging an ECG and chest X-Ray for you as we speak”. Ah! No can do old bean, I lamented. Spain and all that you know? How about I make an appointment to pop in and see you on my way back and I will reduce the drug back to one a day?
Her counter argument came with no hesitation and she told me that as I was blatantly going against her medical advice, she would have no choice but to tell any insurance company processing my claim to cover a more than likely hospital stay in Spain that I had done so, which would in all likelihood void said claim.
And that is as far as I got!