For our June class, my Advanced Memoir Workshop at StoryStudio Chicago read Rosanne Cash’s memoir Composed. It’s not the kind of memoir I would have chosen to read myself, but that’s what you have a book club cum workshop for, right? It expands your horizon. We had decided to give a celebrity memoir a try and this was the one the class decided on. Overall, I have to say it was a good choice because the book was an enjoyable read, even for me who knows nothing about country music and who has no appreciation for who Johnny Cash was.
At times there was a lot of name dropping, most of which passed me by because, as I said, I don’t know who these people are (Some of that is due to not having grown up in the U.S., but some of that is also due to my living off the pop culture grid and not watching TV.). Nevertheless, I enjoyed Cash’s narrative, and I was particularly intrigued by the book’s funky handling of time. It starts off chronologically with her California childhood, but then jumps forward to her own grown daughters, then moves back again. Often, when people are mentioned who apparently became famous later, their career path is laid out right then and there, jerking the reader around in time.
What I mainly appreciated about Composed though, were Cash’s insights into the creative life and the process of becoming a musician (in her case, despite her heritage, it seems to have been by happenstance). For instance, she hates the price that comes with wanting to be a musician, or even a songwriter, as she mostly seems to see herself: You have to perform, and if you become remotely successful, you become a public figure, whether you like that or not. And that’s one point where I think writers are lucky: Even if we become famous, the vast majority of the public is not going to recognize us walking down the street. Even famous writers like J.K. Rowling can probably sit in a café undisturbed. We also don’t have to tour to peddle our wares, beyond a book tour, of course, should we be so lucky.
But the main reason I realized writers are the more fortunate artists is that we do not need others to create our art. As I learned from Rosanne Cash, to become a musician, it doesn’t just take a girl with a guitar, it takes a sound mixer, technicians, cutters, producers and a whole other plethora of souls to collaborate with you to make it happen. Sure, writers do need someone to publish their work, eventually anyway, but to actually create it, to write a story, a poem or an essay? For that we just need ourselves, on our butt, at our computer or with pen and paper. That’s all we need. And we should be thankful for that simplicity.