Purge, Pack, Move

If I were going to write a memoir, that’s what I’d call it and then subtitle it with – Lather, Rinse and Repeat.

I bring this up for two reasons.

The first is that my blog reader is crammed with Eat, Pray, Love crap as the Julia Roberts adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book is opening or has opened.

The reviews are mostly “meh”. No surprise. The novel itself isn’t much. One review pronounced it too “talk-y” as in the character constantly describes how she feels and her observations about every freaking thing. As if a movie about a writer documenting her journey to enlightenment should be somehow more visual than word-packed.

My favorite review so far was written by Helena Andrews at The Root. It took up the theme of Gilbert’s book and named it “white girl problems”. Couldn’t have found a better genre for it.

White girl problems are essentially the non-issues the pale and the privileged focus on in the absence of actual adversity.

When I attempted to read Eat, Pray, Love, Will was just going into hospice. A book by a woman bemoaning her serial monogamy – that horrid pretty girl issue of having always been someone’s girlfriend or wife – while I was losing the only man I’d ever had a long-term relationship with in my entire 41 years didn’t go over well.

Sucks to be her, I mentally eye-rolled as I put the book on a shelf never to be cracked open again until I decided that some of her syrupy half-wit might be useful when I was writing comps for my education masters about six months later. I knew Gilbert was a poser but my professor didn’t.

Andrews though draws this awesome comparison between “white girl problems” lit/memoirs and a line from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. There is a scene where the Mad Hatter observes that in the real world, Alice has lost her “muchness”.

“You were much more … muchier.”

White girls in the real world then are searching for their muchness.

Gilbert’s muchness turned out to be the exact thing she thought was her problem – love and being in a relationship – because her journey ends when she meets the man she is now married to.

So much for issues.

Which brings me to my second reason, and it is related to the loss of muchness. My memoir. The one that’s pretty much written and is screaming to be edited and shopped.

I can’t.

I know. I have been saying that for a while now, but I am sure of the reason behind my reluctance. And it goes beyond my belief that books about overcoming tragedy by being plucky, witty and boot-strappy are so common place that they’ve become clichés onto themselves.

Rob followed a link to a widow blog and the author was describing her experiences at a Blogher style convention for widows complete with keynote speakers, author panels and how-to workshops. A couple of her encounters with people who’d mined literature from their experiences and turned them into books and/or workshops had left her feeling removed and as though she was possibly doing widowhood and grieving wrong.

And then I knew why I haven’t finished my memoir.

I can’t give people their muchness back. I could write a memoir, package it and sell it out of workshops and conventions, but a person’s muchness comes from within not from without.

I felt/still feel sometimes as though I didn’t do widowhood right. The way I felt, and the things I needed to do for myself, were often so out of step with other widows, books on grieving and even memoirs of widows that I wondered how I could be so far out in the weeds when everyone else seemed to know where the paved road was.

I can’t do that to someone else. Lead them to believe – even inadvertently – that I know the way.

Especially since I really don’t believe there is a process to grief or a one size fits all way to navigate the first year or that the whole honoring of someone’s memory should even be numbered in the top twenty of a person’s priority list.

The blogger mentioned how pleased some of the authors seemed with themselves, their lives and this opportunity to basically headline a conference. And I can totally understand her and them.

It’s amazing when people read what you’ve written and tell you it meant something to them. It would be easy to let that dominate and forget that the subject matter makes you more responsible to your readers than that of a fiction writer.

If what I write inspires someone, wow, but if it makes someone feel inadequate, wrong, or persecuted by the fates? Ouch. It would bother me the same way that the kid in my 3rd hour English class who’d given up because he’d never gotten a grade above a D used to bother me. Even though that wasn’t really my fault, I had to fix it. It was my job.

Memoirists open their lives for reasons that are far different from that of a fiction writer. It’s more than telling a good story. My story and opinions as a blueprint for grieving would be a responsibility like the one I took on as a teacher. And it would mean never fully closing the door. The pain would always have access of sorts to my now. A liberty that it doesn’t deserve and that I don’t owe it.

Besides, I’ve written my story – here and in a hundred different places all over the webosphere via comments and guest posts.

Purge, Pack and Move would be an awesome title though.  Sigh.

6 thoughts on “Purge, Pack, Move

  1. Hey Ann – love this piece. It is very well written as usual and shows your attempt to address a dilemma that resides withing. The only right solution is the one that feels good for you, although, I agree with Abby’s post that to help only one is worth it. Your opinions and input as an author and widow, would be appreciated by someone, somewhere out there in the world. Again, whatever you decide is what’s best for you, and should be acceptable to everyone else.

    Take care.

  2. i can’t bring myself to read Gilbert’s book, much like i couldn’t read “Bridges of Madison County”, because i believe it’s simply a romance novel that has crossed over. Call it what it is… And perhaps it should be renamed “Whine, Hope, Marry”? If a ‘perfect husband’ is the desired goal? What’s the point of personal reflection? Ugh.

    Glad you’ve been able to sort out your thoughts on the memoir. There’s good clarity in the thought process, and words. i still think you’re a rock solid essayist, and many of your pieces – including this one – would be a fine addition to print media (“My Turn” from Newsweek always comes to mind).

    “Purge, Pack, Move” is pretty brilliant. Would have to think about what mine would be… probably something like “Run, Play, Boff”…

  3. Being one of the blogger/author-of-a-memoir widows at the widow conference, one who chose to put my story out there, I hear where you are coming from. Its scary! The last thing anyone ever sets out to do is to alienate the very audience you strive to help. But there are widows and widowers out there who you do have the potential of helping, of easing their world, if even just a little. To me, it was always worth the risk to help those who were willing. Not all widows are willing. Many are not ready to hear what you have to say. Not all grievers want to let go of grieving.

    There is no one size fits all “solution” to grief. We are all finding our way in the dark. Each story that gets put out there helps others to see that. Memoir takes a tough skin, there is no doubt. You put yourself on the line, open yourself to emotion, criticism, perhaps jealousy and at times I think, you risk getting stuck living a cliché or living in widowhood for longer than might be healthy.

    You don’t have to write a book to “do widowhood right,” but if my story can help even one person, then to me all that risk has been worth it.

    1. I replied to your post but I didn’t have room for the following, which probably better explains my position:

      About two years ago, there was a meeting announcement in the local paper calling for volunteers interested in starting a grief group in town. I’d been interested in such a thing since we’d gone through a hospice program for parents and children. So I went to the meeting, which was run by a woman from the neighboring town. In addition, there were four others. The mother of a young man who had committed suicide, a woman who’d lost her parents and two other widows. None of the widows, including myself, were newbies.

      The meeting lasted about an hour with the facilitator asking us what we thought the structure should be, how often meetings should be, if there should be a fee. Stuff like that. And we all had ideas. They were good ones, but the facilitator didn’t seem satisfied. Finally, she just laid her cards down because she had an agenda and we just weren’t being easily led to it.

      She had lost her daughter and found that journaling helped her through her grief. She’d developed a workshop with journaling as a grief tool. It was an eight week course. It cost $85 a person. Were we interested?

      Another widow and I took that moment to gracefully exit.

      A couple of weeks later there was another ad for a “grieving through journaling workshop”. It ran a few times over the course of the next year and a half and then disappeared. I found the whole thing distasteful and felt a bit used. Not long after, I decided that Dee and I had had enough of hospice too because the group leaders were married to their Kubler-Ross script and I wasn’t so much.

      I don’t think that most people who go into grief counseling or write books or do the convention/workshop thing do so with an agenda. I always believe that people who’ve been through tragedy and start foundations, communities, groups or whatever do so with the best of intentions. I think even those folk with agendas truly believe they are coming from a place of empathy and wanting to share and help.

      But I think it’s too easy to hurt people and too easy to get caught up in the “fun” of it and too difficult to let go of the idea that what worked for you will work for someone who isn’t you at all and in the end, wanting to get it right would eat me whole. Right now, I am not there.

      I comment here and there when I am moved. I blog when it’s relevant to me. And the rest is archived.

      Purge, Pack, Move. Still like that.

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