My Memoir: Inland Empire Girl

Gary Shteyngart took the best title for a memoir I’ve heard in a while, Little Failure, so I had to think of something good.


Nope. That’s not Photoshop. That’s smog.

These were the other titles I’d considered:

  • Portrait of an Artist as a Young Jen
  • A Life in Lists
  • My Life Up Til Now (too stupid)
  • Moist & Unstable (refers to weather)

Portrait of an Artist as a Young Jen is by far my favorite, but “artist” seemed a little much, as did the comparison to James Joyce. And it should be something a little more descriptive.

Though it’s doubtful anyone outside of southern California knows what Inland Empire refers to.

It’s the area where I grew up – the greater Riverside / San Bernardino area, about an hour east of Los Angeles. I’ve heard it called (and referred to it myself) as “the armpit of southern California.” The place you stop to go pee on the way to Palm Springs. Or, my favorite, “but it has that cute Mission Inn,” which is little like saying at least in hell you’d don’t have to worry about being chilly.

Inland it is. Empire – that’s a joke.

But once I started seriously thinking about writing a memoir, I thought that it should be grounded in a physical place. I was born in Riverside and lived there until I was 17 1/2. It helped shaped who I am, for better or worse.

The memoir, which I don’t expect to ever be published, started as a series of lists.

I love lists. And when we lived in Cleveland and I’d drive the two hours down to Columbus for work once or twice a month, I’d have lots of time to think of lists for myself. So I jotted them down (yes, while driving, and no, they aren’t all legible).

Here is a list of some lists I’ve written so far:

  • Things that Happened to Me that Sound Like Fiction
  • Things I Don’t Know How to Do
  • Recurring Dreams
  • Heartbreaks
  • Places I’ve Met a Man that I Started Dating
  • Things I Regret
  • Ten Favorite Books

The whole memoir isn’t lists. It’s made up mostly of essays/vignettes about issues or times in my life. Those there are some multi-media dimensions to it as well.

Here is a list of some of the other essays/vignettes:

  • On Growing Up in Riverside
  • On My Junior High and High School Boyfriend Steve
  • On Having a Stay-at-Home Dad Before it was Cool
  • On Learning to Play Soccer at Age 26
  • On Postpartum Depression

The lists help alleviate the heavier themes of the book. And they are fun to write.

So far, for National Novel Memoir Writing Month, I’ve written 20,665 words. I’m about four days behind on my word count, but the weekend is coming….

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