If you were to sit down and design a memoir from scratch, calculated for me to love, it would probably look an awful lot like Caged by Cameron Conaway. A cagefighting poet, an MMA fighter with an MFA in creative writing, in essence, he had me at “hello.” Proceed accordingly.
This book was very raw. Viscerally and intellectually, I often felt myself uncomfortable as I read it. Conaway does not shy away from extremes, or pushing boundaries, and kind of forces his reader to come along for the ride. Reading Caged never felt like something I could just sit down and relax and enjoy; it felt like an exercise. An experience. But exercise makes you stronger. And experiences make you grow. It was kind of like that.
Like many good memoirs I have read lately, it is not told as a straight chronology, but operates on several levels at once. Conaway interweaves a tough personal and family history (particularly with his dad) with his development as a writer/artist with his lifelong love of mixed martial arts with his progression into manhood. From a technical standpoint, he has a good mix of story, highlighted with inspirational quotes and original poems that correspond with what is taking place at that point in his personal history.
I didn’t agree with everything he said. About religion. About relationships. Even about fighting. But I appreciate his perspective. I appreciate his thinking approach to the world. I appreciate his dedication and focus. He seems like a fascinating guy that would be really fun to get to know and have deep and meaningful conversations with.
One of the main points of his that I definitely do agree with is his take on balance. There needs to be balance in your life if you hope to have any shot at happiness. He addresses this point directly relatively early in the book, talking about how when he was in school, his classes would go better if he was also working out, and his workouts would go better if he was making time for school. Also in the mix was some good, physical, mindless work at a grocery store. The work-exercise-intellectual/artistic balance is a huge struggle for me right now. I work way too much, I exercise not nearly enough, and my writing is on the back burner to a frustrating and depressing degree. I know I would be happier if I could find more balance, though that is easier said than done. But Conaway is an inspiration, on this and many other fronts.
Conaway also talks about envy or jealousy, and how he overcame his. Ironically, this book makes me more envious and jealous than I was before I read it. Of him. He has fought MMA. He has an MFA. He gets to teach and train and write and fight. Basically, I want to be him. Which I know was not his intention in writing the book; he wasn’t looking to inspire envy. On the other hand, I think he was looking to inspire. To tell and show how goals can be achieved and worthy passions can be pursued and dreams can come true. And I thank him for that.
You’re an inspiration, Cameron. I wish you all the best, and look forward to more great things from you. If you’re ever in Kansas City, I would love to roll with you. We could drink some protein shakes and talk about philosophy afterwards.
Dunces, I highly recommend this motivational and enlightening book. Check it out!