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GUEST POST: THE MIND OF STEVEN PAUL LANSKY: AN EXERCISE IN WRITING MEMOIR


Photo of author Steven Paul Lansky
Author Steven Paul Lansky

Today on NovelMasterClass’s blog, we have a special guest post by Steven Paul Lansky, author of the fantastic memoir, “The Break,” which is about one of the author’s schizophrenic breaks from reality. “The Break” is published by Arbitrary Press Books.


I’m making tea, listening to Otis, on the Pod, you know. Thinking about last night’s lamb, potato, onion, mushroom gravy, broccoli mess, and how long it took to make, and clean up, as I replace the little aluminum liner in the electric stove burner, smell the onion, and lamb grease while I boil water for tea. Sure, every dude makes tea for his girl, in the morning. You can’t pour from an empty vessel, I think, as I drain the shock from the blue enamel pot, and I think every dude has skills to cook a mess at night. It’s universal as a cook in the north woods for a spell. (a line from Tangled Up in Blue). As universal as a puppy on the couch, and a mouse scurrying along the bathroom baseboard. It’s like a niece that won’t call. An aunt that died just before a scheduled visit. It’s all just like it could always be expected to be.


But, dude, what about this? What about a matching, curved blade dinette, much to my chagrin, ever-free, self-sharpening knife set? That is what Lansky is made for. That’s me. An advert for a knife set. (Seriously, Google Lansky and you find knife-sets and sharpeners.) It’s too easy, and Madeleine, (Peyroux) loves to sing in a sultry voice about the end of knife edges, and the loss of sharpness in the world. The slow rising sun just a mysterious gray-blue cool haze on the slam-dunk slab of slate green earth under evergreens along the lakeshore, across the lake, its shimmering susurrus piling into the theme of un-brushed teeth, the lamb gravy circulating my veins.


Image of Steven Paul Lansky's memoir THE BREAK
Steven Paul Lansky's memoir THE BREAK

I had a cool place to work on my writing, a summer lake cabin. Unoccupied in late spring. Cold, undisturbedly.


And what everyone wants to know, now that we’re thinking about writing, is how? How do you write memoir? What sort of prompt do you use? How do you start? How do you continue? What inspires you? Where does it come from? How can I do it? I mean, I want to write a memoir, understanding that your memoir was useful, got edited, is published, people read it. Yeah, I want to be read and understood.


It’s kind of like asking, how do you grow a mustache? Or, not really, it isn’t like that at all. My mom had a mustache and she bleached it, or had electrolysis always trying to obfuscate it. She didn’t want it. At all. And yet it was there, on her upper lip. You could tease her about it. It wasn’t easy at all for that matter.


When I grew into my teens, after I started to write, I hate to say I wrote memoir from age ten or eleven, so I’m meant to be a stupid fucking teacher of this stuff, I really had a wispy little mustache. My first tries, or wouldn’t even call them attempts, at memoir, were met with disdain, even ridicule, by most of my peers, by my instructors. I laughed and cried, but I was a child. But, was secretly hurt. I wanted my mustache to be thick and bushy, dark, like Magnum, P.I., remember Tom Selleck? Yeah. A kid in a man’s body. Drove a Ferrari, and dressed in hot pants.


Yeah, I want to be read and understood.

Ambition. What a foolish enterprise. Madeleine singing again. My suggestion? Do as I do. Use the familiar. When stuck use a prompt. Write in flowing sentences, as you break down your ideas, into familiar patterns.


To continue the metaphor. I remember, (keep in mind the puppy is still sleeping next to me on the couch, I’m drinking the weak tea, with local honey, it’s tepid, the mouse hid away, and yes, I need bread for breakfast, but not a knife set), yes, I remember, a time when I went to get on with my college degree, as I wrote my first novel, and many poems, still unpublished, with a little journalism under my belt, I asked for a letter to “guarantee” for a government agency that I would be employable after receiving a subsidy, interviewed by a Northern Kentucky University Department Chair, and matronly, she said, you’ll probably have a thick black mustache, even when all your hair has turned gray. She laughed, and said, sure, I’ll write that letter.


I ended up working at the NPR affiliate at that University for nine years in my thirties, spinning discs, and sharing poetry, interviewing writers, and musicians. The letter had nothing to do with what happened to me in radio. No one saw my mustache, and yeah, by then I had had my picture in the newspaper as a rising regional poet, and I never took a single class at NKU.


So, a mustache, a digression, a little trip down memory lane, a flaneur, who works, that’s what I aspire to. Si je pense je confirm, je pense complet. Perhaps Franglais tells another story. That’s what I’m here for, to tell a story. About me. Completely me, as I think, as I am.

Drawing of author Steven Paul Lansky
A Sketch of the Author, Steven Paul Lansky

I guess I’m afraid to put it away. Put the knife set in the drawer. It’s dangerous to leave it out. Wout van Aert might run over it, flatten a tire, and pile into a spectator. OK. A mixed metaphor. A Tour de France level cyclist, in a knife edge situation while full out mentally, and a fool trying to get published. What do these have in common? More than ambition. There’s something about blues music, the gypsy truth of it. Hard work, pressure, not tire pressure, intense cookery, oops, I just hurt the puppy’s paw by leaning into it. Yes, you have to be unfazed by the possibility you’ll hurt somebody. I’m not talking here, about a business deal, where someone is going to lose money, nor an ego situation where someone will restructure themselves psychologically.


A ton of hurt. People put on themselves. Spiritual well-being, in plowing right through that hurt into the loamy earth of a sexy saxophone solo, with rim-shots, and the susurrus of the lakeshore, the puppy sleeping, and etc.


Steven Paul Lansky is the author of “The Break,” a memoir about one of his schizophrenic breaks from reality, published by Arbitrary Press Books. He lives in Clifton, an urban Cincinnati neighborhood. He likes to paint, sketch, play harmonica, and write poetry. His works include the chapbooks, Main St., and Eleven Word Title for Confessional Political Poetry Originally Composed for Radio; a novella, A Black Bird Fell Out of the Sky; and a collection of vignettes and sketches, Life is a Fountain. His audiobook, Jack Acid, can be found on Spotify and Apple Music.


To learn more about Steven, check out his website: https://stevenpaullansky.com/


Purchase Steven’s memoir, THE BREAK, HERE


To read a blog post on Writing and Journaling as Therapy click HERE


Contact Cully Perlman, Editor, at Support@novelmasterclass.com if you’re ready to have your novel edited, or if you need a book coach.

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