Writing it All Down

I started my memoir last weekend. I suppose one could say that as a blogger I have been writing the story of my life for over two years now, but as my husband helpfully pointed out no one but a handful of regular readers really cares.

“I don’t get this memoir writing thing,” he said. “Aren’t autobiographies reserved for the people who actually counted in the larger historical context?”

And he is right in a way. John Adams got a biography and an HBO mini-series out of his life because he was a founding father and a president. His life mattered. But before he was anything more than a gleam in the Democrat parties’ eye, President-elect Obama had written two books about himself, and the reason that he could do that he owes to the memoir.

A memoir is not a whole life. It is the examination of a series of important events or themes in a person’s life that shaped him or her in a transformative way. It suffers a bit from the million little pieces that James Frey apparently took creative license with in his memoir, and the contrived nature of eating, praying and living on a publisher’s dime, but it is still a viable form of self-expression. And it’s an opportunity for people like me to tell our stories, even if I am not important to American history, a rising star, a lost and found boy or lucky enough to have someone pay me in advance.

I have told my story often enough in short bursts on my personal blog, and to people who I have met that have expressed interest, that I wonder why I should bother to write it all down in one place. For a time I even stopped telling it, putting it away in favor of other topics because I grew uncomfortable with the unwarranted praise I received.

“You are so brave and strong. I could never have lived through what you did.”

But I am not brave or strong, and anyone would have done what was necessary to push forward just as I did. Being a caretaker to a terminally ill spouse is not uncommon. Doing what needs to be done is just taking care of business. It’s what we all do every day. There is nothing extraordinary about it. But still I am pulled back time and again to write the story down. Put it into the public record for anyone who wants to read it.

I don’t think I have ever met a widow who didn’t talk about writing about her journey. There is a walking through fire aspect of this particular mile marker that makes or breaks a good portion of us, but it is accomplished in the shadows and silently. An event that we will all share in at some point in one form or another on the continuum that is life needs to be shared fully and beyond the condolences.

We seem to have no trouble discussing beginnings like falling in love or having babies. And I could write tales of those milestones too. But we allow each other to stumble about in the dark on the subject of death and the aftermath for those left behind which is just as normal a process as anything else we go through in life. Why?

“You could write a fiction story about a widow.”

I could. In fact I did. It’s a piece of shite. Something I could picture Julia Roberts starring in. She looks good in dark colors, makeup-less and hollowed eyed. Maybe Tom Hanks could play the romantic lead who heals her heart and helps her find love again? Accept that you don’t lose love as much as you are denied continued access, and I realized that my own reality was every bit as Hollywood as my fictionalized version. A widow with a young child who mets a widower via the Internet and emigrates to a foreign country to marry him and live happily ever after? Get Spielberg on the phone. Call up Oprah’s people. There’s kleenex in this.

My little slice of life is worthy of immortality on the page because it is a common event that I share with many, and that many more will one day share with me too. That’s what memoirs are all about. Sharing and common ground, something that it is all too easy to forget exists in the world today.


This was an original 50 Something Moms piece.

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