MONIQUE T. VITCHE
On April 23, for the final event in the Creative Writing Spring Reading Series, memoirist and creative nonfiction author, Peter Trachtenberg, visited the College at Florham campus for a reading and discussion in Hartman Lounge.
Trachtenberg is the author of several works, including “7 Tattoos: A Memoir in Flesh,” “The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning” and “The Casanova Complex: Compulsive Lovers and Their Women.”
His latest book, published in 2012, “Another Strange Devotion: On the Love of Cats and Persons,” is about his cat Biscuit going missing. When the narrator tries to find Biscuit, he starts looking into his past relationships, like the declining relationship he has with his wife, F.
Trachtenberg read two chapters from “Another Strange Devotion” before opening up the room for questions or comments. Trachtenberg said it was based on a true story and he started writing the story while looking for the missing cat.
“I think it was about a 12-page essay,” Trachtenberg said, “but I alluded to the fact that, as this was happening, I sensed that my marriage was coming to an end.”
He realized that both incidents were related and that, psychologically, his anxiety over finding his cat reflected the end of his marriage and how he wanted to hold onto his wife.
“I began to sort of braid these two stories,” Trachtenberg said. “And in a way, I was writing about a real person but also wanted to keep certain things private.”
In “Another Strange Devotion,” Trachtenberg references the right to privacy. “There are whole areas I just couldn’t write about,” he said.
Students and faculty alike were welcome to ask questions during the discussion of Trachtenberg’s work. Peter Benson, chair of the Department of Literature, Language, Writing and Philosophy, was curious about the philosophical conflicts the author might encounter while writing.
When Benson asked Trachtenberg how an author “stays away from narcissism or solipsism” when writing personal essays and creative non-fiction, Trachtenberg explained that doing so was difficult.
“It’s always tricky,” Trachtenberg said. “There are times on one level that I shouldn’t write about myself. When I look at my life I see certain themes appearing in it.”
Trachtenberg said that he teaches a workshop titled, “Who Do You Think You Are?” which deals with writers “locating the larger themes” in their lives for their works.
“I have them make up a graph,” he said.
There are multiple axes to this graph, Trachtenberg explained. This allows the writers in his workshop to chart the events that have happened in their lives, where they grew up and their affiliations that have shaped them. Affiliations could be anything from religious to political.
In his workshop he also has the writers write down who they “really love” and who they “really hate” as part of their passion. Trachtenberg believes that “hatred teaches a lot about somebody.”
Trachtenberg also explained how he doesn’t find people to be all that interesting; instead, it’s the way people see things that make them interesting.
“What we are is lenses, different kinds of colored lenses, in which the light of the world passes,” said Trachtenberg.
“What is interesting is the way in which each of us refracts that light. The point of a memoir, a personal essay, is to hold itself up to a particular wavelength of light… and see what color and pattern is being pulled down.”