Memoir Writing Lesson #12: Check

Today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away: 

Write about something you have found ugly. 10 minutes.

The other day, I saw a woman for the first time. My first impression of her face caused me to physically recoil for a second. I’d never seen a face like hers before–not in person or through the media or even in antique photographs–and it startled me because it didn’t fit the fairly liberal parameters I must have in my mind regarding human faces. Scientists or pseudo-scientists have done studies on what makes people think a particular human face is attractive, but I have never read or even seen a headline about a study on what makes us think someone is ugly. My guess is that we have a range in mind and someone has to fit inside of that range or we think they are ugly. Her face had a shape I’d never seen before–more width at the bottom than at the top, combined with a peculiar flatness that also angled outward at the bottom–angled, not sloped. Her eyes were overly large, as if the skin had been unnaturally pulled away from the socket area, and the cheeks below were not only without any definition, but were part of a large droop of skin on each side of her face. She was probably elderly, if I believed the wrinkles, but her straight and fine reddish hair looked young, almost juvenile.  What happened, though, the longer I looked at her–and I was just an observer, so I wasn’t interacting with her personality–was that I grew more and more fascinated with her looks. Soon I didn’t think she was ugly at all. Instead, I thought her looks were charming and held a strange, unique beauty.


And that, my friends, is pretty much what happens to me with anything I first think is ugly. That’s why I am fascinated with scrap art and photos of old structures rotting into the group, gritty city scenes and reading about what people found in the garbage.  It’s all so fascinating. Don’t get me wrong; I love beauty, maybe a little too much. But so much is beautiful. And when you get right down to it, not much is ugly if ugly means something that will permanently make me cringe.
(Except for vile human behavior toward animals or other humans. THAT is ugly).

Go ahead and try it. What have you found ugly?

Not ugly at all is Jackie O! Such a sweet girl, she’s been at the shelter way too long. Maybe it’s her tipped ear? That is supposed to indicate an altered feral cat. Jackie O is the furthest thing from a feral cat. Very friendly and loving, in fact. She can be found at Home Fur Good in Phoenix, Arizona.


Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Flash Nonfiction, Inspiration, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

18 responses to “Memoir Writing Lesson #12: Check

  1. A very interesting perspective on ugly, Luanne…I’m not sure why, but I think I almost fear the word. Perhaps a latent belief in my own ugliness, separateness, something like that. Perhaps a label too freely used.
    P.S. I just had to tell you this: I got my DNA results last night from Ancestry! 74% Great Britain, 11% Ireland, 5% Scandinavian, 10% scattered.
    Pretty wants to know what happened to my mother’s definite German ancestry?? I can’t wait to get Pretty’s back – it’s what I gave us for Christmas!!

    • I can’t speak for how you have felt inside (obviously), but you are beautiful, and I hope you know that by NOW! Interesting about the DNA, but there still could be German in there. I’ll tell you why 😉 since you (didn’t) asked haha: Ancestry goes back farther than some other DNA analyses, so German can show up as British Isles because the ancestors began on the British Isles and migrated into Germany. I had the same thing happen to me, although since I took the test a few years ago they have adjusted a bit away from so much British Isles ancestry as I “had” before. Strange things happen though with these tests. I didn’t have huge surprises, but there were some. One of them was that I have 10% specifically Polish DNA, which would indicate almost a full great-grandparent. I did have great-grandparents (2) from what MIGHT have been a German enclave in Poland (possibly Pomerania), but they were German ethnics. And yet here is all this Polish DNA.

      • Really, Luanne? Now that makes a lot of sense to me about the British Isles ancestry including Germany – I’m so glad i told you about my DNA results! I actually knew my great-grandmother and great-grandfather until I was around ten years old, and they spoke German to each other – or, at least, that’s what I was always taught they were speaking, but the DNA results had me scratching my head.
        Now it makes perfect sense!
        And your Polish DNA is so interesting, too…I admire you for your work for TFK – I know your book will be fascinating…:)

        • Yes, they probably were speaking German! I haven’t been doing much genealogy lately, and I am eager to get back to doing at least a little bit every week or so.

  2. The photo of Jackie O is definitely not ugly. I’m fascinated by beautiful people who are truly evil – serial killers like Paul Bernardo or Ted Bundy. Twisted me!

    • Oooh, creepos. I am not too fascinated with such utter evil, although I have enjoyed a few crime spree true crime books in the past ;). Jack the Ripper always makes for a good book. I did read a book about Ted Bundy, though, years ago. The book was good, but the story made me feel too bad.

  3. I think you’re absolutely right that ugly is deeds not looks.

  4. That was a rich description and the hair thing really threw me. Have you ever had a long chat with someone, or written letters back and forth before seeing them? It’s always a shock what people look like in 3-D. I can’t help but stare, although ugly isn’t something that comes to mind.
    Ugly things would be my decapitated sunflower stalks. Those are ugly. I should go pull them out of the ground. What an eyesore.

    • Yes, it is always a shock to me. Part of that is because real people are so much more real. One day when you jump off the page for me I will be disoriented for a second and then will meld the two images.

  5. Can we love beauty too much, Luanne? It’s great when we can see past surface beauty to something deeper, but even surface beauty is a gift. It depends on how we use it, I guess. Beauty can become an idol, but so can many other wonderful things when not digested in moderation.

    Then too I think of the 19th century reformers who thought creating beautiful things and places elevated the human soul. By the end of the century many were disillusioned when the great museums and fairs didn’t raise the standards of the “common” man. I think now we have gone in the opposite direction trying to race each other to the cultural gutter as some form of penance for ever having had standards of beauty.

    • I love how you often have a different take on subjects–a unique sensibility and thoughtful opinion (based on knowledge). I think I meant that I can let beauty be an idol, especially since I am drawn to beautiful things.
      What you saying about racing each other to the cultural gutter is interesting: I doubt you are referring to this, but I’ve sometimes thought that although I love being able to dress like a slob because I work from home, it’s sometimes a little demoralizing to see most of the world dresses as slobs when I go out. There is a real egalitarian feel about it, in some ways, but that is just a facade. The truth is, we don’t even TRY any more, and there is real value to trying once in a while.

  6. I’m going to write about Trump’s hair…

  7. Jackie O. is indeed adorable! Luanne, I think that a person can only be ugly if their interior is also ugly. There is always something like eyes, a cute smile or pretty hair that softens a look. The way eyes light up or a crooked smile brightens with crinkles around the eyes helps a lot. Working at a nursing home I found something on all patients to concentrate on. 🙂 : D

    • I agree with you about the interior of a person!!! You are so right. How are you feeling, Robin?

      • Thank you, Luanne. I still try not to look at the (bright) redness, but I think that I should be glad I had my surgery. Second week follow up on Thurs. (11/10)
        Going to work is less motivating lately. I have been applying to jobs again after one year off from this process. I had seven years of applying to 360+ jobs.
        I think my Italian friend (Calisto) after almost 6 months is crawling back into his shell. He suffers from anxiety. Usually my cheerleader role does well, but probably not with truly depressed or anxious people. It’s too bad since he was like the best guy on dates, the in-between days he was a little detached, though. Oh well, no attempts, no results! 🙂

        • Oh Robin, I am sorry that you’re having both job and relationship upheavals right now. Anxiety is so difficult, and I don’t think any other human can “make things better” for someone with anxiety. Is it your eye that is red? Did you have one eye done or both?

Leave a Reply