You are on page 1of 7

Ton 1

Kristen Ton
Isom
ENGL 479
28 April 2016
Process Essay: The Slight Curve of the Lip, a memoir
This final project, The Slight Curve of the Lip, is a memoir that reads like prose poetry,
involving themes of relationships, memory, and death; through this piece, I examine some of my
lifes darker moments. The narrative is fragmented, like memory, and composed of many
vignettes, which mostly fall under three different sections, or chapters: Twenty, When I
Cannot Speak; Twenty-one, When I Speak in Whispers; and Twenty-one, When I Will Live
with the Weight. A prologue and epilogue frame the narrative, introducing and then concluding
with the image of a bridge. Each of the three major sections addresses a different you, with the
first two yous, Jared and Levi, being past significant others and the final you, Taylor, being a
childhood friend. But while Jared and Levi dont transgress their sections, threads of Taylor
weave throughout the narrative, cumulating in her section and at the narratives end; she is my
doppelgnger, ever-present in my thoughts. While I address you in specific instances to
heighten the narratives personal feel, I explore the three different relationships involving Levi,
Jared, and Taylor, because of what I experienced while in these relationships: what brought me to
the bridge and what brought me to the conclusion that I will not fall. The Slight Curve of the Lip
is in the present tense, inviting the reader into the moment of my memories, not as you, but as
someone who is listening in.
I chose to write a memoir because the darker moments of my life had so often been on
my mind. I had been fixating on specific, vivid images, like the dying kitten, the oak tree, and

Ton 2
Taylors face, and I needed to write these out of me; I think that, perhaps, now that I have written
these images and many more, I will be able to move on with my writing. Notably, Twenty-one,
When I Will Live with the WeightTaylors portion of the narrativebegan as The Radios
Off, which I wrote in Woolfitts nonfiction class two summers ago. Partly, I wanted to
contextualize this original piece, to explore the moments in my life leading up to and following
Taylors suicide. As Dr. Reneslacis brought to my attention, Taylor is my doppelgnger, a friend
who hurt, quietly, engaging in self-destructive behavior, like myself, but who committed suicide,
waking me up; I realized I did not want that. Another driving force for writing this memoir was
that I wanted to remember; I wanted to examine the person I was, to re-experience her memories
and recall the people she knew, as the person I am today. So often, I feel that my memories are
slipping away, and I wanted to inscribe these, poetically, while uncovering my rationale for
leaving my relationships with Levi and Jared.
My process involved remembering, thinking deeply about the memories that accompany
my twenty- and twenty-one year old selves, and reading a handful of memoirs, personal essay
collections, and nonfiction craft books. I mostly sought out writers who write poetically, with an
abundance of metaphors. Jo Ann Beards collection, The Boys of My Youth, has been of more
influence on my project than any of the other works I have read; similarly to myself, Beard has
lived a relatively ordinary life, and yet, from seemingly unremarkable circumstances, she spins
beautiful, lyrical prose. Since beginning my project, I have consistently struggled with the
question, Why would anyone want to read this? And I wonder if Beard similarly struggled;
however, ultimately, she gleans meaning from lifes brief moments of clarity. Like my own
project, Beards collection is written in the present tense, which effectively absorbs the reader
into her memories, and I hope that my work captures this same effect.

Ton 3
Additionally, I read Annie Dillards latest collection The Abundance: Narrative Essays
Old and New, in which her poetic prose is beautifully and magnetically metaphysical; if I could
choose to imitate a writer, this writer would be Annie Dillard. Structurally speaking, Dillards
essays are fragmented, and she masterfully repeats specific words, phrases, and images, even
within a curated work like The Abundance; I have attempted the same in my own project (e.g.,
dirt and silt and weight and things spilling between fingers). And as a successful writer does,
Dillard furnishes readers with a fresh way of looking at experiencea way in which lifes
smallest moments are capable of exploding into thousands of details. She creates dreamlike
worlds, soaking them in the senses, and as I was reading, I found myself wondering, Is life truly
this beautiful, so potently filled with scents, visions, and feelings? I want my reader to question
the same, and so, I have grounded my work in concrete, sensory details.
Mary Karrs The Art of Memoir, while generally very useful, led me to one of my most
impactful revisions: rather than explicitly labeling my father an alcoholic, I showed it. Karr tells,
Dont use jargon to describe people. Its both disrespectful and bad writing. I never called my
parents alcoholics; I showed myself pouring vodka down the sink. Give information in the form
you received it (120), and with this advice, I turned a single line, That alcoholic father of mine
called, into two pages, detailing himflawed, but not ill-intentioned, and struggling with things
he would not tell meand our relationship. I reached deep into this relationship and into my
childhood to show that I have loved him all this time, that I have willed for him to changebut
to no avail. I did, however, allow my mother to refer to him as an alcoholic, because that is the
term she used throughout their marriage.
Though I could not help but first approach Madeleine LEngle with a dose of skepticism
I cannot help but do so with all things explicitly labeled ChristianI came to savor Walking

Ton 4
on Water throughout my writing process. LEngle led me to redefine Christian art as true art, or
art that expresses truth. LEngle believes that true art turns chaos into cosmos, that a true artist
does more than ignore or reproduce the chaos around her: she looks into the chaos and sees the
cosmos, spins it out like a delicate thread of light, weaves beauty on her loom, and makes it art.
One will glimpse the light and beauty of the world in what she creates, even if it faintly peeps
through darkness. I felt so struck by LEngles thoughts on what it means for art to be Christian
art because I do not write with Christian intent. Rather, I write what comes out of me, believing it
to be capable of expressing truth. I seek the light speck. And, perhaps, when my art succeeds at
spinning out the light, it is Christian art. I am not entirely certain that I was able to spin light
from the chaos of my memories for this project, but I do believe there is, perhaps, something
beautiful in the narrative.
The best days of writing this project were days centered on revisions. Prior to weaving
Taylor throughout the narrative and humanizing my father, I felt a stifling interiority about my
project. Everything about it felt so inside of me, ignorant of the world outside and other
characters motives. But when Dr. Reneslacis opened my eyes to Taylors presence in between
the lines, I saw that I could open up the narrative; Taylor had been there all along, and I simply
had to make her visible to the readerand to myself. Now, at the beginning of the narrative,
Taylor is at the bridge, first as me and then with me: And perhaps, in such a moment,
passengers realize the figure is a girl. Taylor. Could it have been her before me? The girl from
my childhood. A friend. Who lives in memories of summer camps. / But today, I am the speck of
a girl on the stony outcrop beside the bridge. And at the end of the narrative, I imagine Taylor at
the bridge. Though she dies, I do not: I imagine Taylor at this bridge. Taylor. My friend. Who
did not jump, but turned on her car in the garage. . . .I do not know if I will again shiver on the

Ton 5
stony outcrop in 2016. But if I do, I will not fall. / Not after Taylor. / I know the weight will not
be my death. Taylor frames my narrative; I am both Taylor and not Taylor.
Immediately after writing the scene about the phone call from my father, I knew it was
wrong. That alcoholic wasnt my father. When I took the time to revise this, words began
pouring from me, and one sentence labeling my father an alcoholic transformed into two pages
detailing our father-daughter relationship. Through these pages, I attempted to understand my
father, who is so often indecipherable, and the effect of his smoking and drinking on our
relationship. What I have learned from this projectand this scene involving my father, in
particularis that revisions matter, significantly. Typically, I dont allow myself enough time to
revise, but this project has spanned a semester, giving me the time to revise, again and again. The
feeling is satisfying, knowing that I have taken something and made it into something more. I
was glad to be able to set this project down for a week at a time, allowing myself the time to
ruminate and reflect before returning to it.
By far, the greatest challenge of this project: the difficulty of sharing this, my story. A few
years have passed since the events, but I have rarely shared this side of my life while at Lee. I
was nervous about how my peers and professors might react, but everyone was sensitive and
unafraid to address the narrative, which could make someone feel awkward. I am glad to have
had the company of Dr. Reneslacis, Professor Isom, and Laura as I have been digging up the
past, trying to understand why certain images have remained with me. While I was at first
hesitant about bringing in more than one outside reader, I now feel that this project has reached a
shareable state. I feel that it reflects my memories and thoughts on these memories faithfully, at
least as I look back on it now. Other challenges I faced included preventing the narrative from
taking on a stifling interiority, which I am still working on, and avoiding sentimentality, which I

Ton 6
think I evaded pretty effectively. The scene detailing my father was most at risk to sentimentality,
but with Dr. Reneslaciss help, I believe we eradicated these instances (e.g., the fluffy white
dog and little hand).
Ill admit that before practicum, I didnt feel like much of a creative writer; I felt like a
fraud, like Id turned out maybe one or two good pieces by accident. But after practicum, I feel
like I can begin believing in myself as a writer. I didnt think Id be able to turn out such a
lengthy, mostly coherent project. I didnt think Id be able to write something beautiful. At least,
I think it might be beautiful; in some parts, perhaps. Above all, I have learned that revisions are
necessary to being a good writer. Anne Lamotts approaches to shitty first drafts and
perfectionism were especially liberating to me, because I often catch myself repetitively finetuning a series of sentences, even words, before Ive written the full paragraph, which distracts
from my end purpose: finishing the work. Lamotts approach of letting it all pour out and then
rewriting is significantly more productive and keeps the words pouring. This I know: I want to
continue writing nonfiction, and I want to continue improving; I have found this means reading
what I want to write, so I will continue vigorously pursuing the works of memoirists, essayists,
and poets.
As for the future of this project, I intend to continue revising, especially with the reader in
mind, so that I might draw it out of myself and humanize more of the characters (e.g., the
roommate). I also like Bens suggestion of furthering the tactic aspects of the relationships; this
will entail a series of major revisions, but I am curious to see how such revisions might transform
the narrative or pull its parts closer together. I also intend to eventually bring original art into the
project; I think art can sometimes capture what words cannot, and I find this particularly relevant
considering that I am so often at a loss for words within the narrative.

Ton 7
With this project, I have included two additional pieces of writing from the Writing
major. The first is my poetry portfolio from an introductory poetry writing class, and I chose this
because I wrote poetry before I tackled prose; as a result, I believe that my prose has maintained
a poetic quality. Though I am not particularly fond of my poetry, I feel that my prose frees me
from the constrictions that I feel poetry places on me. Additionally, I included a rhetorical
analysis of The School of Life Websites use of yellow (completed for Digital Rhetoric), because
I feel that it brings together my skills as both a writer and designer. As I grow as a writer, I want
to grow as a designer, and I will be seeking ways to fuse these passions.