CNF‘s Quarterly Blog Roundup

Creative Nonfiction in its new format now accepts nominations for blog posts to reprint in its quarterly print issues. It’s a bit like the Findings section of Harper’s, I guess. Yes, you can in fact nominate yourself. I thought vainly this would maybe be a good idea, so I went to CNF‘s Web site to see what’s what:

We’re looking for: Vibrant new voices with interesting, true stories to tell. Narrative, narrative, narrative. Posts that can stand alone, 2000 words max, from 2010. Something from your own blog, from a friend’s blog, from a stranger’s blog.

Of more than 130 posts on this blog so far, I don’t think a single one qualifies. It’s never occurred to me to use this blog as a medium for recording narratives. It seems I have no true stories to tell here.

Am I a disappointment? I say aloud often that people have an innate hunger for narrative, and yet what I do here is all analysis and criticism. I have a tiny audience: would you rather get more true stories? Is narrative what people go to blogs for?

Here’s a true story. Since last Wednesday morning I’ve been spending twelve hours a day in ward 2C of the Francis Building at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota—part of the so-famous-I knew-of-it-before-I-ever-knew-how-properly-to-spell-mayonnaise Mayo Clinic. I sit those twelve hours just two steps away from the bed of my boyfriend who’s maybe seventy-percent of the way through a slow recovery from small intestine resection surgery. Wednesday, his surgeon expertly cut out a cancerous tumor the way a poor darner might fix a hole-torn tubesock—slicing laterally twice through the tube and sewing the two new open ends together. Except what the surgical team sliced out of my boyfriend was eighteen inches in length. “You’ve got more than ten feet in there,” Dr. Swain told me afterward. “He won’t miss it at all.”

Hours later they put him in a shared room, despite our requests he be given something private. Already, a large man lay in the bed closest the door, awake and curious, giving me and N and his nurses and his mother the thrice-over. His eyes moved like a scary cardiogram. It was Tyler Perry. The actor-writer-director-producer Tyler Perry was sharing N’s recovery room. I shook his hand and said, “I’ve only seen two of your movies, but I liked them. You have so many others, don’t you?”

N was dilaudid-grogged and hadn’t yet noticed. Tyler Perry stuck his hefty hand into one of his PatientMate adjustable bedside table’s nooks and emerged with an envelope, sealed. “You look like a trusting guy,” he said. I had my shirt tucked into my jeans at the time. “Hold onto this until tomorrow, would you?”

This is what it’s like to be given a request from Tyler Perry, whose fame is much less nameable than other celebrities of his status and wealth. (N’s mother, for instance, hadn’t heard of the man. And yet according to Forbes Magazine he makes more than $130 million a year. This is more than what Jennifer Aniston makes in a year, and N’s mother’s read Jenn’s autobiography—twice). Anyway, this is what it’s like:

  • helping to deliver the baby of a woman you don’t know is your own mother
  • unprotected sex with a stranger you could swear you once had protected sex with in a dream once
  • winning top prize at an ikebana exhibition
  • refolding a map correctly, and setting it back on the shelf it came from

This is what Perry’d written on the envelope:


“What’s it stand for?” I asked. “Can I ask?”

“Hopefully,” he said. “I won’t have to tell you.”

Tyler Perry looked terrible. What rings he traditionally had under his eyes were blacker and thicker, as though he were playing a sunny game of football. His cheeks were swollen and hung from his face; his cheeks were jowls now. He looked like Madea without a wig. So Joe, maybe. The curtain that ran on a track along the outside wall of the shared room, the one that prevented folks from gawking in as they shuffled with IV stands up and down the halls, was pulled all the way back, with both the Indirect and Read lights behind his bed shining, and I found all these touches on the part of Tyler Perry very humble and brave.

I asked what he was recovering from and N’s mother said to mind my own business, which I did by sitting in the corner and searching Google News for “Tyler Perry Surgery Mayo Clinic”, but this search did not match any documents. Tyler Perry was soon asleep and so was N and I went to find something to drink. I had the envelope in my back pocket. Next to the pot of hours-burnt coffee was a spigot of hot water. It was a trick I’d seen only in movies, though never any of Tyler Perry’s, and never had tried myself, but there in the harsh-lit drinks closet I made myself a styrofoam cup of hot tea and held the sealed envelope close to the steam. If movies were true, there’d be with Mr. Perry no trouble or ramifications.

The envelope held a dollar bill with a post-it stuck to it. Here’s what it said:

For when I die. Thank you, Tina, for the book. I’ll always love you. Emmitt.

Tina was the name of N’s nurse, but not, according to the whiteboard across of Tyler Perry’s bed, his own nurse. I resealed the envelope. I went to find a restroom. I got a sandwich. What to do now?

When I got back to the room Tyler Perry was gone. They’d moved him to a private suite, N’s mother said. I went to find Tina. “I think he wanted you to have this,” I said.

“Thanks,” she said. “But we can’t accept tips.”

I have the envelope here. I hope to give to N when he wakes up.

2 thoughts on “CNF‘s Quarterly Blog Roundup”

  1. I liked that. And usually I find narrative hugely suspect, mostly because I don’t find life as interesting as what we make of it, and also because so much narrative is, well – at Grub Street, the Boston writing place, there’s a class called “Finding Your Memoir,” which, hm. I agree that your blog is mostly analytic, but analysis is nothing if not a narrative of thought, so could you, you know, I’m going to run all of these words together, challengewhatismeantbynarrative?

  2. What interesting to me is that narrative for you is life and not what we make of life. Or did I misread your second sentence?

    And yes! Analysis as a Narrative of Thought. Thanks for the new seminar topic.

    “Finding Your Memoir” is gross, but also funny. It’s like “took his doctorate”—like these things are fruits we’re meant to go out and pluck.

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