The opening exchange from a Creative Nonfiction interview with Meredith Hall, author of Without a Map:
Q...The two pieces that have appeared in Creative Nonfiction [“Shunned” and “Killing Chickens”] both revolve around pretty traumatic experiences; I wonder if this is something that is typical of your work? It seems that your work is beautiful in the way that it is an explanation or a kind of reasoning out of what happened and why, and how one can live in the aftermath of it. I wondered if this is the way you approach writing in general — a way of gaining perspective?
Hall...Actually, I think a couple things are going on. One is there are moments in my life, not large events so much as very distinct moments, that tug at my memory and tug at my desire to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and understand. But, mostly, as a writer they catch my attention. I know they're big moments; I know they're moments that are waiting to be exploded into a larger understanding, and I can't do that in my head so I end up doing it on paper. But I'm very aware that they hold some potential for a discovery beyond the moment itself.
You know Charles Simic, my colleague at University of New Hampshire, in a very beautiful essay called “Reading Philosophy at Night” — he's an insomniac — he talks about what it's like to spend long, long nights awake reading philosophy, immersing himself in the struggles of Being. One of the things he says is, “making meaning is a matter of my existence; I circle perpetually the same obsessive images.” I think we each carry obsessive images, so for me these moments are a cluster, a handful — there aren't a lot of them. And so these two essays [“Killing Chickens” and “Shunned”] happen to be two of these moments — I don't have a lot more of them. There may be three more that I haven't written yet and would like to.
So I think probably all of them, those obsessive images, I suspect, for each of us, are about difficulties in our lives. They get hazy in our memory of happiness or times we are at peace in our lives. And these images are jarring to us because we're not yet at peace with them. I think writing is a way, in part, to come to terms with them. These are stories I have not told friends; these are not stories I talk about and so there's an instinct to finally share these with strangers. These are stories I've made a decision to share with people. My friends who have read these pieces are learning these things about me for the first time.
Another part of this is that I have also, in my life, been very privileged and very blessed to have experienced great passages of richness — wonderful things have happened in my life — and I have a desire, as a writer, to share these experiences, but I have a harder time doing it. I'm not sure how to write “the joy of mothering” or “the joy of my connection to the wilderness.” These are things that are profoundly important to me, they have shaped me, they are me, but, I don't know how to write them in ways that are compelling. I plan on pulling these essays together into a collection and I want those other — in fact — larger and more pervasive segments of my life to be represented in those essays; but I do have a hard time as a writer finding meaning beyond simply conveying, yes I was happy. So, I think, by default, it is those more distressing times in our lives that yield more material.
Read the full interview.
Meredith Hall has won the $50,000 Gift of Freedom Award from A Room of Her Own Foundation, a Pushcart Prize, and notable essay recognition in Best American Essays. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Creative Nonfiction, The Southern Review, Five Points, Prairie Schooner, and several anthologies. She teaches writing at the University of New Hampshire.
The Page 69 Test: Meredith Hall's Without a Map.