Speak, memory (apologies to V. Nabokov)

Is there any life event more bizarre than a school reunion?

After spending Memorial Day weekend in the company of fellow Simon’s Rock alumni, most of whom I had not seen in decades (what, you think I’m going to say how many?), I can tell you definitively, no.

For a fiction writer who enjoys playing with the nature of time and memory, it was a rich, if weird, experience. (And I wasn’t the only one to appropriate a famous title in reflecting on the experience; my good friend, fellow alum, and now professor Jenny Browdy did the same in her post about the reunion, memory, and the passage of time.)

I can tell you one thing for certain: forget about self-improvement. Basic personalities remain remarkably consistent from decade to decade. The gossipers still gossip; the clueless remain clueless.

the grave of Vladimir Nabokov (Russian-America...
The grave of Vladimir Nabokov (Russian-American writer) and his wife Vera Nabokova in Cimetière de Clarens (Switzerland) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Simon’s Rock is where I began to learn to write. I say “began to learn” because I am still learning. It’s also where I encountered some of my earliest writing influences, including Vladimir Nabokov, author of the book from which I nabbed my blog title.

I well remember the environment of Simon’s Rock: the small, seminar-style classes and the one-on-one time with professors that got me so motivated. I also remember trying way too hard. In one of my first writing courses, my professor said something about avoiding use of the verb “to be.” I’m sure he was simply trying to encourage us to enliven our language. I took him literally, however, and there followed a year or so of tortured, unnatural-sounding prose. (Try it yourself and see!)

While on campus for the reunion, I visited the alumni library and pulled my senior thesis down from the shelf. Since I got my B.A. in creative writing, my thesis consisted of two short stories and an essay. I confess I had completely forgotten the content. So I spent some time reading through the first short story.

The first page of one of the short stories from my bachelor’s thesis.

This cemented my idea that we don’t change. It’s not that I haven’t grown as a writer, but I was amazed to see the common stylistic and thematic threads in the story. Even the way it begins, with the words, “I remember…”

I think someone once said that many writers have only one story in them, which they tell over and over. I am feeling rather that way.

If you’ve been writing for more than a decade (or even less), how has your writing evolved? Do you revisit the same themes and ideas from story to story or book to book? Comment, please!

ROW80 Update

Back from exploring my roots, I’m ready to return to the present and forge ahead. During almost a week without Internet access, I made good progress on my current novel. I’m up to about 84,000 words and have reached a point where I need to do a quick read over the whole manuscript in order to prepare to write the final chapter.

San Mateo County Fair Literary Arts Events

I’ll be busy June 9 – 17 at the numerous literary arts events taking place at the San Mateo County Fair. If you’re in the area, please come by. In particular, look for me on the following days:

Sunday, June 10: 4:30 – 6:30 p.m., ANTHOLOGY LAUNCH PARTY
Tuesday, June 12: 7:00 p.m., FAULT ZONE READING
Saturday, June 16: 2:00 – 4:00 p.m., AUTHOR DAY

12 thoughts on “Speak, memory (apologies to V. Nabokov)

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  1. I’ve never been back to any of my reunions so I applaud you for going back! It’s funny because when I look at what I wrote for fun in college, it’s quite similar to what I write now. I’ve definitely learned how to make it more fun to read, but you can see me stamped all over my words. 🙂


  2. I have had that experience you’ve described here, often. That feeling when, in returning to an old piece of work written by you at a time when you thought from your current place that you were so different, you realize that you were smarter, more similar to the writer you are today. It’s amazing. I have become a bit of a hoarder when it comes to my writings, keeping pieces from elementary school. From looking at my writer’s history, I’ve learned that while I’ve become a better “technical” writer, my soul was still the same as it is today.


    1. I love your comment about your soul remaining the same while the technical aspects of writing improve. It’s so true!

      Maybe someday I’ll go back and take another look at my previous novels (unpublished for good reason). Perhaps with a bit of editing from my current self they might be worthy of seeing the light of day.


  3. I have wondered myself about that “one story” thing; I suspect it may be right–at least among the people I know. The specifics change, but the general structure is often the same.

    Your reaction to your reunion is exactly what made me avoid my own. Of course a public school versus a private school does tend to shift the balance some, but in a small town such as the one I grew up in, there are those of our class that we’d known since kindergarten. And the changes… Well, there have been plenty.

    As for your ROW80 goals… Good for you. I am thinking I will need to unplug my network wire more often as well. The net has reduced my writing output by whole encyclopedias of text.

    Enjoy the country fair–sounds grand!


  4. I think my writing has evolved into my voice, rather than mimicary. It’s tighter, less flowery and I can express my idea with out going around corners and back again.


    1. That sounds like a great evolution of your writing. “Finding one’s voice” is a topic that has always fascinated me. I don’t think it’s something you can pursue but something you just have to get to by lots and lots and lots of writing.


  5. I think it’s true that most people don’t change very much, because you really can’t change your basic character. But it amazes when people’s more superficial behaviors haven’t changed – like gossiping??

    My situation is unusual in that I’ve been working on the same story (7-book series) now for nearly a decade – and I didn’t do any creative writing in HS or as an undergrad. I’ve been going back recently to revise the first few chapters. I find some things the same and some a little different about how I wrote back then…


    1. Maybe gossip is not quite the right word. It’s something about being in the group of people who always seem clued in to all the social nuances and have their finger on the pulse of everything that’s going on with everyone. I was never good at that and the people who were, remain so.

      It must be interesting to have such a sustained effort on the same piece for many years. In that sense, I suppose you ARE writing the same story–though I assume it also is always evolving.


  6. Although I think technical aspects of my writing have improved (less adverbs, better use of action verbs, less use of passive tense–well, having a primarily academic writing background, I still struggle with passive tense, but I’ll get there…), my style is likely the same. Non-flowery prose, short sentences infused with a few longies, too much telling (!). When I get a chance later today, I’m going to track down a short story from my college creative writing class (like you, decades ago, but I’m not saying how many), just to see if this is indeed the case. Fun idea. Thanks for taking me there. 🙂


    1. I think what has changed most for me about style is what I’m striving for. At one point it was all Hemingway-esque, banish all adjectives, never insert a verb without teeth. Now I’m softening. I’ll be interested to hear what you find when you read back!


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