As a writer, I prefer creative nonfiction because I simply lack the creativity to make up a good readable story. All of my attempts at fiction have been thinly-veiled nonfiction with a few changes, and it was exciting to discover that creative nonfiction is a legitimate genre where I can just tell the story I want to tell. I need narratives with facts for a framework, and from there I can fill in the details of experience. Otherwise, when the story is wide open with innumerable possible outcomes, it’s far too chaotic for my preference. As a reader, the agreement that the essay or memoir is nonfiction makes the stakes so much higher for me and makes me more invested in the outcome and experience.
How does this published piece fit in with the larger thematic concerns that you see in your overall work?
My content has to do with recovery from alcoholism, childhood traumas, and present-day parenting – which are all weaved together into an inseparable lump. I’m writing some about the era of my active alcoholism, but as I reflect on that period of my life, the recovery is far more interesting and loaded with dilemma than the drudgery and numbness of chronic intoxication. There was more acute lawless behavior when I drank all the time, but take away the alcohol and suddenly I had to face what the world offered. – For me, that’s the era that’s unfolding into a better story.
What are you influenced by?
The practice of mindfulness has been influencing my writing, attention to the present moment, attention to what is around me – what do I hear and see and smell, how do I feel.
My kids really influence me. By way of learning language, their word choice at times is interesting. Also, seeing the world through their eyes, where so much is new and exciting refreshes me. Plus, they push me to my limits in every way. Parenting has blown open a whole world of adventures.
Reading, of course, influences me – there’s so much great writing out there. Lately I’ve been focused on reading writers of color, women, and trans and queer folk. There’s so much to connect with and learn from. It’s easy for me to get bogged down with despair and fear for the future of human civilization, and reading keeps me connected to human strength and beauty even as sometimes it seems like the sky is falling.
What does your typical writing schedule look like? What aspects of working do you look forward to? What aspects frustrate you?
My writing is packed into purges on Saturday and Sunday afternoons into the evenings. During the week, I work a full-time non-creative-writing job, in addition to being a parent and a wife. Luckily my work schedule is predictable. When I have a good routine, I work and parent and read during the weekdays. Spending a fair amount of time waiting around in my car makes reading and patience possible. Weekend mornings I spend with my family, running errands and such, but after lunch I retreat. Writing keeps me balanced. It’s rare that I sit down to write and have nothing to say, so for that I’m grateful. I look forward to my writing time, and by the time it ends, I look forward to rejoining my family. And this could not happen without support for my wife and her willingness to wrangle the kids in my absence. She’s such a good sport.
For fun, if you could pick one meal that matches the piece we published, what would it be and why?
Coffee, pie, and a cigarette. It’s not a meal, except it can be when you’re twenty-five and in foolish-admiration with your fellow alcoholic.
SAM BRIGHTON is currently working on several book-length memoirs. Previous or forthcoming publications include The Rumpus, Sonora Review, Cleaver Magazine, River Teeth, and Exposition Review. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her wife and children.