“I tend to resist the word 'memoir',” Ryan Van Meter said, attempting to classify his particular brand of nonfiction essay. “It generally sets up the expectation that something interesting has happened to you, and I'm not sure anything has [to me].”
But for the audience that had gathered at the Soda Center on October 12 for the second installment in the Creative Writing Reading Series, “interesting” did not seem praise enough. Van Meter's writing — lucid, conversational, and wonderfully accessible — drew his listeners in immediately, and the honesty of his words, coupled with the sometimes subtle, sometimes gritty wit, moved and enthralled them.
The piece Van Meter selected for the reading, an essay called “The Goldfish History,” from his newly published collection, “If You Knew Then What I Know Now,” begins with a simple event: He and his best friend/roommate-at-the-time, Kim, buy a goldfish. The story goes on to describe how he met and fell in love with his first long-term boyfriend, and how, with the growth of that love, his friendship with Kim dwindled. The goldfish remains in the background, a constant yet constantly morphing metaphor for the events in Van Meter's life.
The themes that Van Meter explores — “friendship and its failure”, “love and its growth”, one's struggle with identity and sexual orientation — are in no way novel. They have been done before, and done well, but Van Meter's words are still fresh: they are authentic, relatable, but they still surprise.
What's more, Van Meter seems to have done a wonderful job of transcribing his own voice, his own person, onto the page. The audience was delighted to see that the humor and honesty we encountered during the reading extended into the Q&A session that followed.
“Memory and imagination...are like roommates” Van Meter stated during the session. “Imagination is the messy one, who throws socks everywhere. Memory is the one that picks them up without having to be asked.”
By Indrani Sengupta