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writing about non-events

Writing about Non-Events: They Belong in Your Memoir Writing

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.

Action Steps:

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.

Two requests

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?

2. Click on at least one the social-media icons below to share this post with your lists. Help spread the word about memoir writing—we can do it one click at a time.

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5 Responses to Writing about Non-Events: They Belong in Your Memoir Writing

  1. Avatar
    Claire M. Gosselin July 29, 2013 at 11:24 AM #

    Insightful, as always. Timely, too, as I have been experiencing non-communication with my Realtor lately. I shall use your exercise to sort out the situation. Thanks!

  2. Avatar
    Mary Anne Benedetto July 29, 2013 at 4:18 PM #

    This post reminds me of an event of non-communication that I similarly witnessed in a restaurant only two days ago. This scene appeared to be a father and teenage son, also in the process of dining. In this upscale restaurant, the duo not once exchanged a word between them. The only interaction with a living person was to order their meals, at which point the son plugged in his earphones and began to play a game on his cell phone. The father spent the entire meal reading emails on his own cell phone. The waiter placed the bill on the table, the father slid his credit card into the holder, and once payment was finalized, they both stood up, exited, and at no time did I hear one word spoken. The interesting aspect of this scenario was that there didn’t appear to be any anger, animosity or tension in the atmosphere surrounding their table. They were each engrossed in their own little worlds, and there was no crossing over from planet to planet. It saddened me to see that their entire hour together was filled with deafening silence.

  3. Avatar
    Tam Veilleux July 30, 2013 at 1:11 PM #

    Mary Anne,

    Isn’t it sad that “our own little worlds” take precedence over full-on communicative relationships? When we look around we can find non-events sprinkled through out our lives, and really, we find them in each day if we look. It’s the call we didn’t make, the chore we didn’t do, the article we didn’t write (but so wanted to).

    How we react externally and internally concerning these non-events is what eventually affects our story.

    I appreciate that you shared what you witnessed with us.

  4. Avatar
    Gay Finkelman August 5, 2013 at 8:40 AM #

    These contributions bring back so many memories of kneeling beside my Dad’s luxury recliner, when he got home from work, eager to share some conversation. All I ever saw was the full spread backside of the Wall Street Journal and all I ever heard was, “Daddy?
    Daddy? Daddy?” yet no reply. But today, now knowing what it must have been for him to make enough money to support the 4 of us and our expensive lifestyle, I am forgiving and apologetic. Those understandings only come later when we’ve had time to look back and have real empathy and selfless understanding. Thanks so much for the non-event contributions! How often when we criticize we don’t put ourselves in the other’s skin and time frame.

  5. Avatar
    Daniel Bennett January 22, 2020 at 4:38 PM #

    Thank you. A fine piece of encouragement. Some of my nonevents:
    Non graduation from High School
    Loss of a good friend to heroin
    Marriage and family disintegration
    Non graduation from Teacher’s College
    Going out of the Christian ministry

    Quite a list! Fortunately or providentially, lots of real events in my life as well.

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