Brandon Schrand’s second memoir is structured in an interesting way. It’s an alphabetical list of books that have influenced him throughout his life, but each book is accompanied by an essay that explains how the book has influenced him, and all the essays tie together through overarching themes.
When I first started reading Brandon Schrand’s Works Cited, I felt a peculiar kinship to Schrand. Schrand, for part of his childhood, lived in West Richland, and his father worked at Hanford. I am from the Tri-Cities myself, and my dad works at Hanford. There is a particular section where he describes hearing the sonic boom of Mount St. Helens erupting and everyone fearing an explosion at Hanford. That was my life growing up. With all the global unrest, especially since 9/11, everyone has said that Hanford is a top target for terrorism. Living so close to Hanford, if anything were to happen, I and everyone I ever knew or loved growing up would have no chance at survival. We’d be fucked.
I also connected with Schrand because throughout his narrative, he always seemed to be surrounded by Mormons. I grew up in not only a Mormon community, but also a Mormon household and was even baptized Mormon, despite never actually believing any of it.
I even connected with him because he seemed like an intelligent guy with a wicked sense of humor. However, after reading the rest of his book, I cannot decide whether he is super pretentious or I’m just dumb. Maybe a little bit of both. There’s no denying that he’s a funny guy, though.
And the pretention suited the voice of the narrator anyway, so I’m not really complaining.
Schrand’s voice throughout the piece was strong, and listening to him read it in person just made it stronger. That may partly be because we could now hear exactly where the emphasis and pauses are, but I think it also had to do with his commentary. As he read, he would randomly stop and explain himself or he would make a self-deprecating joke. This was odd because I always felt that when you present your work, you should present it as it is. If you have to explain additional information to the audience, outside what is written, then maybe you didn’t explain it as fully as you could have in your actual piece, right? My justifications for him is that A. he was describing what happened in the book to give context to those who hadn’t read it, B. his piece is already published and no longer in the revision stage, which seems to me to be when the “no explaining” rule is usually enforced, and C. since his work is nonfiction, not all the information is necessary for the piece, but when presenting it, it can be nice supplemental information. In the context of a creative nonfiction reading, these asides just felt right.
There are a few things Schrand said during the reading that really stuck with me. First, is that he repeated my Creative Writing professor’s favorite mantra: Show up. Writing is hard. The only way you’re going to get anything done is if you show up every day, sit your but in your chair, and write. On that same thread, he said “I don’t believe in writer’s block.” He said that writing is a job. Plumbers don’t wake up in the morning thinking “Man, I really want to plumb today, but I have plumber’s block.” They get out there and do their job. And honestly, that makes a lot of sense. The first step in writing anything good is to start by writing, even if it is the crappiest thing in the world. It’s much easier to make it better once you actually have something written. This goes back to the book we read in a class last quarter, the Bacon book (see previous blog posts). One of the reasons we get writer’s block is because we’re afraid of not getting it perfect. Bacon said that if you don’t give yourself permission to write it and fail, you’ll never succeed. (If you never write it, you’ll never get it published.) There’s that quote about Edison not failing hundreds of times, but finding hundreds of ways not to make a light bulb. Well, same thing applies. When you write, even if it’s crappy, you aren’t failing. You’re finding the ways your story doesn’t work.
Anyway, Schrand was pretty cool.