Posted on August 16, by Scott Alexander [Content note: May be guilt-inducing for people who feel like burdens.
Intwo years before his return to fencing, Peter joined the faculty at Denison University, where we both teach writing and literature. One day, I suggested that Peter write a book about his return to competitive fencing at age He gave me a sharp look. That book, Kissing the Lobster, is as raw and visceral and unflinching as a swordfight.
As fencers scream when they score a touch, so this memoir is a cry in the face of all that is terrifying in our lives. Kissing the Lobster draws a strong connection between the competitive drive that fuels your fencing and the creative urge that compels you to write.
Disappointment, suffering, and failure are your constant companions in both pursuits, and yet from the pain comes insight, too. How much of that insight came out of the process of writing this book?
So the desire to understand how life can fall apart drove the writing of the book. They may not have answers at all. Maybe the best a writer can hope for is to refine the questions — or to uncover more of them.
Had I been honest in my marriage? Had I acted with honor or humility in my relations with others? When had I ever really shown courage in anything? In what ways had I been merciful with my children or even with myself?
Each essay allowed me to look at a small piece of myself as if under a microscope. What I found surprised me.
And the process of writing had everything to do with that. The book is a sequel of sorts to your earlier memoir, The Arsenic Lobster. What do the titles mean? You structure the book around essays or chapters that bear titles drawn from the ancient samurai code for example, Justice, Courage, Mercy, Courtesy, et ceterawith a few of your own added to the mix including Pain, Exhaustion, Passion, and Humility.
What led you to this structure? More broadly, how do you think about structure in creative nonfiction?
I wanted to use fencing as a lens through which to examine what it means to get older in America — in a society that prizes youth above all.
Once I had my governing metaphor, I set about looking for a structure that would allow me to play with swords. The first essay I wrote and the first one in the book is the piece on pain.
It seemed an essential starting point, if, hopefully, I was going to move out of that pain or at least learn to cope with it by the end. I love nonfiction because, like poetry, it allows me to play with form. Each essay in this book is structured differently just as each poem can have a different form in a single collection.
One essay takes the form of a stage play. Another is a call and response to quotes from famous people. Another jumps back and forth in time as if to follow the vagaries of memory, while another pairs the exhaustion of a single day with the exhaustion of a fencing bout.
In each case, form was my first decision as a writer, and the content rose organically from there. If I stopped teaching or writing or fencing, the world would go on.The range of promises holds compensation in case of order failure plus free of cost two-week revision.
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