When writing about non-events, it can seem like they don’t belong in a memoir. But, often, non-events can have been more difficult than the “events” that do challenge us.
What are Non-Events?
While having coffee in a restaurant recently, I saw a man and a 14- or 15-year-old boy whom I took to be his son walk in together and order. Then, carrying their trays, they sat at a table near me. At first, they were both silent and then the boy began to speak. He spoke quite a bit. I couldn’t hear the words, but he seemed to be talking about something that had happened to him. The man occasionally nodded his head in response, but I heard him talk only once. The boy kept speaking. His head and arms were involved. He evidently expected responses which, other than via a nod, were not forthcoming.
Perhaps I fantasized elements of my own life, but I imagined the boy wanting his father to answer, to engage in an exchange with him but nothing of the sort happened. At one point, as the boy was speaking, his father got up and went to the trash basket and dumped the contents of his tray in and waited for the boy to come do the same. Seeming to understand that the meal was over from the father’s point of view, the boy got up and dumped his things into the trash also and the two walked out together.
This was a non-event.
A non-event is something that should have happened or one anticipated to happen but didn’t. An engagement that was expected to lead to marriage, not having children as you thought you would, missing the promotion that would have utilized your talents to their best advantage, having your husband/wife die young so you never get to grandparent together—all of these are non-events as is the conversation with the man the boy did not have.
Non-events can often be left out of memoir writing, and yet they are an opening to write memoir in a deeper way.
The Truth About Non-Events
Being a witness to this non-communication, this non-event, made me sad. My connection to all those times in my life when I was the non-receiving part of a non-communication was asserting itself. But, of course, non-communication does not have to be with a person. It can be with all sorts of factors—even events: not getting into graduate school, etc.
I realized that non-events are a fit subject to explore in memoir writing. You could say the boy was having a non-event with his father. You could say that each of us have lives loaded with non-events that weigh us down, that cause us sadness.
When writing about non-events, which ones do you include in your memoir? Use the following exercise to write through some and share your insights in the comments.
1. What are those times in your life when you were engaged in a non-event in which there was no fulfillment, nobody or nothing at the other end.
• Perhaps this non-event was with a person such as your spouse, your father or mother,
• perhaps it was with a life event–a gathering that you so much wanted to provide you with more than it did or even could or a gathering that was cancelled or never materialized, or
• perhaps it was in a job that you wanted to succeed at and somehow the promotions or the affirmations never came your way. There was no avenue for fulfilling your dreams.
2. Write about the non-event using all the real details you can remember and all the details of your imaginative projection. Be sure to include your feelings and how the non-event affected your life, perhaps even altered your destiny. What decisions did you have to make afterwards as a result of this non-event?
3. Then, re-write the non-event so that the results you longed for happen—if only in your mind. (You will find this third action step therapeutic. You may find that it will give you insight on what happened.) 4.Check out our Write Your First Memoir Draft Program.
1. If you have had non-events in your life, please tell us about them below. I believe non-events can be very crucial in a life. Were they in yours? How have non-events affected your memoir writing?
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