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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.

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

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  6. Sara Etgen-Baker April 22, 2020 at 7:29 PM #

    Insightful and helpful. I suppose everyone’s life is riddled with non-events. Your post gave me post as I contemplate non-events in my own life and incorporating them into my memoir.

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