To those who celebrate, Happy Memorial Day. Honor those who have and/or are serving.
Today I have the pleasure of a guest post from author Allen Long, who answers the question...
ELF: What do you think is the strongest attraction about the genre(s) you like to write in?
AL: My most natural genre is memoir. For one thing, I think in this jaded age, a lot of readers crave authenticity. In a memoir, the writer can say, “Here’s the story of my life, and here’s what I think it means, or here are the lessons I’ve learned from it.” Then the reader can make up his/her own mind about the material.
When I wrote Less than Human: A Memoir, I made it a point to show my true self, warts and all. You don’t want to present an ideal self to the reader because that ruins the integrity of your book, and the reader’s not going to believe you’re telling the truth. And you want to tell nothing but the truth, because that’s the only way you’ll be able to make valuable discoveries about your life and provide your book with its primary value.
My book is about how I overcame parental child abuse, PTSD, and a nightmarish marriage to finally find true love with my second wife Elizabeth to whom I’ve now been married for twenty years.
Instead of whining about the child abuse and making bitter and hateful comments about my parents, I set out to discover why the child abuse happened.
First I analyzed my father. My father was an only child for nine years before his younger brother came along, and my father has always acted like a self-centered spoiled brat, a fact my mother is quick to confirm. So my father has a spoiled brat personality, which is probably why he hates children—he doesn’t want to compete with them for attention, and he doesn’t want them impinging on his spoiled brat universe. Add to this that my father’s mother was mentally ill and abused my father as a child, and it’s pretty easy to see how all of these elements could explain my father as a child abuser.
But when I tried to perform a similar analysis on my mother, I discovered very few clues and had to admit that my mom’s participation in the child abuse will forever be a mystery to me.
Another thing I discovered while writing the book is that, since my childhood environment felt life-threatening, I didn’t learn to comfort myself as a child, causing anxiety attacks that lasted into adulthood and once landed me in the psych ward of a hospital for five days. I have anxious depression, as do my mother and brother, but psychologists have told me my condition was greatly exacerbated by the child abuse.
In addition, since I didn’t feel truly loved as a child, I had a strong urge to find genuine love with a girl my age during my teen years. My book contains two chapters about my teenage love life. I fell in love with the first girl I slow-danced with at a party, and I married the first girl I dated in college because I felt love-starved.
My first marriage was a nightmare because my wife verbally abused and cheated on me. And I put up with it for fifteen years because I came from an abusive background, and abusive relationships were virtually all I knew.
I could go on, but my point is that a completely truthful memoir allows both the writer and reader to make exciting discoveries about the meaning of the writer’s life. If executed artfully, a memoir like this will be therapeutic and enlightening for the writer while fascinating to the reader.
Less Than Human
by Allen Long
In Less than Human, Allen Long tells the story of his often nightmarish childhood in the wealthy suburbs of D.C., the wonders and mysteries of teenage love, his ill-advised journeys into corporate America and a hellish marriage, and ultimate breakdown. And yet, his story is mostly one of triumph. He draws strength from the joys of fatherhood, he finds true love in his second marriage, and through working with psychotherapists and leading a life rich in self-examination, he overcomes both child abuse and the resulting PTSD, finally learning that instead of being less than, he is, indeed, human.
Less than Human follows an unconventional path, arranged as much by theme and association as by chronology. These stories take many forms, from driving narrative to lyrical reverie, at times evoking mythic overtones, and this variety, along with an unflinching confrontation with the conditions and consequences of childhood abuse, create its own form of suspense--in what direction will this book take us next?
While the zookeeper threw apples into the makeshift pool and coaxed the elephants to swim to retrieve them, he recited a long string of facts. These awe-inspiring creatures have 150,000 muscles in their trunks and they can use this appendage to suck up to 15 quarts of water at a time, which they then squirt into their mouths. Also, he said, elephants can hear with their ears, trunks, and feet. In addition, these captivating mammals are believed to have the same level of intelligence as dolphins and non-human primates and they can feel grief, make music, show compassion and kindness, mother one another’s infants, play, use tools, and recognize themselves in mirrors.
When some of the elephants exited the pool, they used their trunks to throw dirt on their backs.
“Dad, what are they doing?” Ben asked.
“Putting on sunscreen,” I said.
The boys giggled.
The zookeeper continued to lecture, but we tuned him out and focused solely on the elephants as the great gray wrinkly creatures with the small dark eyes and long eyelashes and formidable, floppy ears shaped like the African continent bobbed and swayed in the hot July afternoon. Perhaps the boys’ minds wandered briefly to Babar, one of their favorite books about an anthropomorphized elephant, just as mine may have flashed briefly upon the proverbial elephant in the room at home, but our thoughts quickly returned to the magnificent elephants and our simple but immense male joy.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Allen Long was born in New York City and grew up in Arlington, Virginia. He holds a B.A. in journalism from Virginia Tech, an M.A. in fiction writing from Hollins University, and an M.F.A. in fiction writing from the University of Arizona. He has been an assistant editor at Narrative Magazine since 2007, and his fiction and memoirs have appeared in a wide variety of literary magazines. He lives with his wife near San Francisco.
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