TANDY VERSYP Staff Writer
On Feb. 6, writer Nic Sheff read a smidgeon of his memoir, “Tweak” to a room of young writers, i.e. Professional Writing students, or as I like to call them, “I’ll take any job” writers. I should know. I’m one of them.
His father, David, wrote a memoir detailing his own struggle with his son’s addictions. The books were published at the same time, giving the world another point-of-view of Sheff’s adventures into destruction that affected those around him.
Before reading, Sheff described his memoir, about living most of his life on drugs, mainly meth, with his eyes on the gray carpet or holey ceiling tiles of Arnold Hall’s Room 129. And when he read an excerpt, I didn’t watch him. Listening was OK, but it was too honest for watching. (I bet he never thought he’d be reading some of the most painful experiences of his life to a room of eagerly feasting strangers.)
I didn’t ask any questions—my head nestled on his shoulders and my voice whispering, “Tell me more,” because I felt I’d intruded too much already. And of course, like the peeps of my generation—Gen Y? Gen Tech? Gen Blogs-a-lot?—my stupid existentialism kicked in with thoughts of my own writing, my overly personal, we-just-made-love-and-now-I-will-euphorically-tell-you-more-than-you-need-to-know writing. (Also my overly hyphenated neology.) Nic Sheff had me questioning, why write about myself?
My mom calls me periodically to discuss my columns. One question always comes up after the change from motherly acceptance to unbiased critic: “Why would you tell people about those parts of your life?” And she never lets me answer because A: She has already reasoned an answer in order to put her mind to rest, or B: She accepts the practice of autobiography.
But autobiography is a relatively new invention. In “Conditions and Limits of Autobiography,” George Gusdorf writes: “This conscious awareness of the singularity of each individual life is a late product of a specific civilization. Throughout human history the individual does not oppose himself to all others … lives are so thoroughly entangled that each of them has its center everywhere and nowhere.”
Life is apparently an ensemble with no lead character, but still, writers discuss their solitary lives in laser-printed text that rests on the bookshelf next to Dean Martin’s “Amore!” album in all three of your local Starbucks coffee houses. (Although I scoff, I would love to be so lucky.)
As for Sheff, he wasn’t trying to oppose himself to others, but to himself. He solidified his demons and the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. In the process, forcing individuals to acknowledge his individualism. (Side note: That piece of crap, Plato, wouldn’t be so preoccupied with trying to get to sunlight if he had a freakin’ job.)
Sitting in Arnold Hall’s Room 129, I didn’t look at Sheff as he read. I traced over the hairline on the person in front of me, the smile lines on the person next to me, the pit stains on the person standing in the corner, dissecting miniscule shadows while I listened. And then against my will, I turned to Sheff and thought, “It isn’t so lonely in here after all.”