memoir writing


Someone asked me that tonight on Twitter. It’s a fair question if you don’t know me because, while I have a fairly consistent set of core values, I am not easily categorized in everyday terms.

I think he was annoyed that, despite my following Green people and sometimes tweeting green causes and issues, I am not green enough to not question things that don’t make sense or don’t match up.
But I am not any more liberal than I am conservative. I am not green because of my pragmatism or a socialist because I was raised by Depression Era parents. I subscribe to no particular worldview because there is validity to be found everywhere – if you keep an open mind and you can’t do that when you’ve picked a side. I learned that in Catholic school.

Yeah, I know.

I don’t believe in a god or gods, but I don’t discount the probable reality of a purpose driven universe and the immortality of that some of us call a “soul”.

I think religions have done more harm than good but don’t think people who practice a creed are necessarily bad or deluded.

I am a progressive though I don’t belong to the cult of “progress”. Science fiction will not save us.

And  I do believe in being accountable; earning your own way as much as possible is good for you and that a lot more issues than people realize are nothing more than distractions to keep us from paying attention to what is really important.

The economy, for example, is a distraction. Or at least all the hyperbolic rhetoric and mock warfare and shell-game math that gets tossed at us by the main stream (and off the beaten path) media, politicians and activists.

Justin Trudeau (infamously and to his likely dismay now) once said that “the economy/budget will take care of itself” or something close to it.

His opponents far and wide mocked and continue to mock such “naiveté”, but he is really not that wrong.

Budgeting has to be done. By everyone. Households, businesses and governments. But it is a lot less quantum physics than you think.

And for the most part that which is the free market – from which economies and government budgets are birthed – does take care of itself as it is largely outside the influence of even those who try to influence or manipulate it.

It grows, contracts and collapses and staggers back to its feet again. Driven a tiny bit by us but it’s mainly dependent on the fact that humans have needs and those needs are met via consumption.

We consume therefore we must work and have a system for bartering.

It’s kind of simple.

Even if everything imploded tomorrow morning with the bell on Wall Street (as likely a place as any), we’d still need things. We’d still have skills to ply. The economy would just flex to accommodate the new reality.

Whatever. Most talk of the jabbering about the economy and budgets is nonsense. Political parties can’t grow economies anymore than they can save jobs that are naturally migrating to newer, cheaper emerging countries. Politicians are impotent forces in terms of doing much good on a large-scale. They can (and have) managed to muck up a lot of things though. Leafing through any history book can tell you that.

But they’ve done great things, you will argue.

I will grant you that, but mostly by accident or as a by-product of something that was probably self-serving and turned out better than anyone could have dreamed.

So do I know who I am?

Do you know who you are?

You’ll give me a list of things you believe in. Groups you belong to. Things and people you love. Tell me about your causes – passionately, I am sure. Assure me that you aren’t a whole host of things.

The way you dress, wear your hair, your markings and piercings, taste in music, food, books and movies/tv will all scream something that probably isn’t you at all.

And in the end, you still won’t come close to telling me anything about the real you.

People’s natures can only be known through real time experiences. Whether that’s via intense conversation or adventures or just hanging out (and yes, it can be virtual).

But getting to know someone is intentional and time consuming.

Unlike my Twitter or Facebook feed, or even this blog.

If who we really are was so easily divined, people would get along better and the world wouldn’t teeter on so many brinks and we wouldn’t be worrying about economies or climate change to the extent that many of us are at actual or virtual war with so many others.

I just finished Justin Trudeau’s “memoir*” and the only thing I know for sure is that he held back. I still have no idea who the man really is but he probably isn’t the anti-Christ and Canada will survive him just like it’s surviving Harper or would survive Mulcair or May.

Look, just because I find this or that news article worthy of sharing or commenting on and just because in your eyes my thought pattern seems contradictory doesn’t mean I don’t know what I am doing or where I would like to go or have forgotten where I have been.

That which is me has survived more ups, downs, and twisty turns than you know or I could ever blog about.

My favorite Father of Confederation is Thomas D’arcy McGee.

He was born in Ireland. A gifted writer and a silver-tongued little devil who began his career at the tender age of barely 18 when he left Ireland for the United States to preach to the immigrant masses about freeing their homeland from British occupation.

He was an activist who eventually became a full-fledged terrorist and wound up in Canada solely because he needed a job and couldn’t go home to Ireland where an arrest warrant and deportation to Australia awaited him.

He ran the gamut from near apostasy to fundamentalist Catholic.

He was an alcoholic and a born again teetotaler.

An Anglo – Quebecker, he worked with McDonald to birth a united Canada and ended his life dreaming of a multicultural society of Canadians.

He died at the hands of a terrorist organization he once believed in with all his soul. They killed him because he knew their vision threatened his Canada.

Along the way, he changed his mind and rhetoric and ways so many times that his critics’ most consistent argument against him was that he never seemed to know what it was he stood for.

But he always did. In the moment and going forward, he knew who he was. He was, like everyone else, a work in progress.

His progress lead him on quite a journey. Mostly because he had an open mind (though he lacked the interest in ever admitting he’d changed it or had been wrong about anything ever).

I am not who I was thirty, or even ten, years ago. I won’t be of the same mind always as I go forward.

That which is me is always me, and it’s only for the privileged few to know. But who I am in this life changes as I learn and grow, as it should, and when I am in a growth spurt – as I am – is not the best time to try to pin me down.

I am just rambling, you think.

No. I’m thinking. On paper. If you’d been paying attention, you’d have figured that out about me already.

And you should try that sometime. You might learn something.

 

*Memoirs should be saved until one is old enough that one no longer worries about the fall out of being frank and having opinions about one’s one life and experiences. Just my opinion, mind you.


Profile shown on Thefacebook in 2005

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I’ve been working on the blog this past week. Mostly going back and reformatting the posts I transplanted from my original blog(s) and tagging them appropriately. It’s tedious work, but fascinating to read my long ago thoughts on this and that.

Lost in 2007 right now, which covers Rob and I from courtship to early months of marriage. I thought I’d written more about us really than what I have found. There are a lot of things I didn’t share, which surprises me because I don’t consider myself the discreet sort.

Another thing that’s come up in preparing the holy writing platform is my “fan” page on Facebook. I felt like such a geek setting one up and it’s very grade seven to ask – but if you do read my blog and are on FB, could you “like” me? Or follow me on Twitter?

Ugh, there –  it’s said. Feel like I need to wash the grovel off now.

I’m also looking for blog topic post ideas. I am not quite ready to rant about U.S. politics. Perhaps I won’t ever be. I shake me head and just as I finish someone else down there commits some new verbal atrocity in the name of capturing the 2012 GOP nom.

Long ago, I asked readers to “ask me” about things they wanted to know. I think the project stemmed from a meme. So here’s your opportunity to ask me again, keeping in mind that there are actually places I won’t go in terms of personal revelation or outing family/friends. Leave a comment here or over on my “fan” page.

Sigh, fan page sounds so pretentious.

 


My own work. Created using "Inkscape"...

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The limit is 500 but I received a dispensation for another 50. So how many words have I written?

843.

A first draft should just flow freely. Even when you know there are word count constraints, the first rule is just get it down and done. Worry about length in the edit.

If I’d had a thousand, the mandate would have been relatively easy.

Explain how you and Rob made your relationship work.

Which begs the question of why our both having been widowed set the odds against us in a way that other relationships aren’t as challenged, but the book is advice based and geared towards women who find themselves dating and/or in serious relationships with widowers.

A widower once showed up in the forum who took issue with the idea that dating him would be more difficult than dating someone with a different set of variables. He argued that divorced or never married men presented women with similar issues. He ranted and raved quite a bit – which left the question of why he would need special handling not all that much in doubt – but he made a good point. One I don’t disagree with really. Dating is dating. Baggage is baggage to be unpacked and then put away in a drawer, donated to a charity or tossed in the trash.

And everyone comes to dating with a unique to him/her set of details for someone else to parse.

So what did we do?

In 550 words or less?

We wanted it enough to do all of the things that the experts tell you are critical in establishing and maintaining a good relationship but that most people are too lazy, caught up in life or simply resist because it wrecks the whole sexy romance aura of it to bother doing.

  • Did you know your partner’s complete medical history before you signed on the dotted line? Or debt obligations? Credit problems? Portfolio? Retirement plans? I did. And Rob had my info too.
  • And did you talk about your fears? Plans for the future? How to raise the kids – discipline and Santa Clause issues alike?
  • When things came up – as they do – did you speak up or stuff it until it exploded in a Technicolor montage of every little thing that drives you crazy, being sure to include all miscues and imagined slights?

There was not a lot of doubt where Rob and I were headed. Even in the very beginning, our emails read like two people mining for a potential relationship. We weren’t youngsters and we don’t come from the school of drifting until something is so obviously a relationship we are forced to make it an action item.* Though Rob thought we could perhaps live together for a bit, the immigration issues, compounded by insurance and employment and child concerns and my rather immovable point of view on the stupidity/just asking for trouble problem with the whole free-form co-habitation thing, made that a less desirable alternative. Rob gallantly refrained from pointing out that we were engaged and planning to be married in September anyway, which was really a sweet thing for him to do.

Both of us did the cohabitating thing with the late spouses. Rob and Shelley at the behest of her grandmother, who believed couples needed at least two years to practice before tying a knot**. I went along with cohabitating with Will but I laid my cards on the table first and put a time limit on it, and he was invited to agree or move along.  He found my conditions completely reasonable and actually proposed well before his time was up – as he had planned to all along I later learned. Living together is a rather pointless exercise for those who’ve decided that marriage is what they want anyway. But it mollified others and provides the illusion of having put time and thought into your decision.

When I share the odd story here and there about our courtship and the early part of our marriage, I leave out the work part. Partly because it’s not romantic and partly because I – incorrectly no doubt – assume that everyone knows that good relationships don’t bubble up from the sea-foam like Aphrodite.

Things came up.

We had three children in varying stages of not being terribly pleased with us. There were in-laws who felt trampled upon and friends who weren’t sure how to react. Our mothers were supportive but not all that secretly worried. My dad was about the only one who wasn’t too concerned.

Logistics. Moving and merging households. Immigration. And the emotional residue from care-taking and grief still wanting central stage from time to time, having been in the spotlight for so long how could it be otherwise?

550 words. I almost need a book.

*For the record – again – I am personally opposed to living together in a mindless manner. Nothing good is the usual result. As an off-shoot, I don’t think it’s wise to know what you want but keep it from the other person because they either a) don’t want the same thing really or b) you think they might meander into line with your way of thinking if you just stay casual about it. To varying degrees, they are all recipes for personal misery times two (or more if you are foolish enough to impose this on children either by dragging them along for the ride or creating one from scratch).

**At least that is what Rob told me she told them. My theory? No one was crazy about the idea of Rob and Shelley marrying. I suspect that Shelley’s grandmother used her considerable influence to simply slow the two of the them down a bit, and they went along because they were incredibly young and marriage  – at least in the days of our teenage yore – seemed pretty permanent. But that’s just my theory.


Broken Vows

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In the course of the “uproar” about Joyce Carol Oates tome, A Widow’s Story, I pondered yet again my withdrawal from my memoir. I truly believe that most memoirs slog through a marsh of well-trod ground, offering nothing new in terms of insight. They hack up analogies, metaphors and similes like a cat does hairballs. Just so much stinking, steaming emotive glop.

Without anything new to add to the conversation, it’s just another entry in a reality-soaked entertainment genre that’s come to define our society. It’s pretend self-help because no one wants to be helped. Misery loves company, but it craves validation more.

That’s why grief blogs and on-line communities thrive. The hurting arrive looking for hope and answers and stay because being accepted and understood in the dark  Gollum-like shady places is easier than getting back out into the harsh light and starting over again.

Mostly, I have been John the Baptist in the online grief world. Yelling like a mad-man out in the desert. Chastised and dismissed or ignored entirely.

So I thought, what have I to offer? My clichés and analogies? They are no different from Oates. She wryly observed all the same odd and annoying aspects of losing a loved one that I have read hundreds of times before from better writers possessed with abundantly more self-awareness.

“But what about our story?” Rob asked. “You have our story to tell.”

Yes, but what can I add to that old plotline? Widow finds love again. Widower finds love again.

Finding love again is the basis of every rom-com ever inflicted on the movie-going public.

I think our story is as special as he does, but what makes it worth the time of someone else to read? And doesn’t our contention – that love is possible, attainable and doable after loss –  fly in the face of grief’s tenets? The work of sorrow, the long hard hoed row, and the idea that one never heals?

It knocks the stuffing out of the soul mate theory, and the notion that seconds (a charming term I learned recently from the widowed community) should simply be grateful for a spare room in someone’s chapter two because the master bedroom is a memorial shrine as “til death do us part” applies to other people’s lesser romances.

And then I was perusing a couple of the more well-known widowed folk blogs. Reading comments, one where I was kitty-clawed a bit for my insensitivity, and another that dealt with someone discussing the new person in his/her life that was so insulting to this new love that I nearly asked the blogger why he/she was dating in the first place* and it hit me.

What I have to offer is dissent.

I don’t agree. Widowhood is not a life long emotional disability. One can, and most do, move on. MOVE ON. Not “forward”, but “on”.**

We can and many, many of us do love others just as deeply and passionately and with our whole hearts – not some basement room or attic space.

Life does get better and sometimes it even gets awesome. And it’s a choice.

Oh, and our children? Not doomed to be emotional eunuchs. They will be as okay. They are far more resilient than they are painted.

And the vast majority of people whose hearts have been broken – because it’s hardly just a widow thing – don’t snivel, whine or retreat into lives of quiet desperation. At least not at a rate any more significant than the rest of the population, who believe it or not, also don’t enjoy single parenthood, loneliness or having no family or friends who understand them or have their backs when they need help. They too are under-appreciated, overworked and struggle financially, which might have more to do with their lack of interest in your problems than “not getting it”.

We are not special. Charlie Sheen is special.***

*Really, if I read one more person droning on about how their dead spouse in every and any way can’t possibly be replaced and that the new boy/girlfriend should just shut up and be grateful for scraps – I might go on a commenting frenzy.

Seconds? Shudder. It’s like a derogatory term from a bad sci-fi movie about artificial lifeforms.

**Semantics? Yep, telling semantics. And not in a good way because when one needs to parse things so finely, perhaps relationships are part of one’s past, or one is more concerned about what others think of them than in being honest.

*** Rob is fond of a saying of his late, and certainly unsympathetic, father. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re special, son,” he would tell Rob. “Because they mean you’re retarded.”


Money

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Joyce Carol Oates published her contribution to the dead spouse memoir section of your local bookstore this last week or so. How another rather elderly woman is widowed by an even more elderly man rates as soul wrenching tragedy eludes me, but she felt the need to chronicle her “magical” first year and share all 400 pages of it with the world – for a price.

Because you can find more authentic accounts of widowhood for free in the blogosphere, it’s a wonder that publishers still acquire this kinds of books and shell out capital to print and promote them. Notice I didn’t include “edit”. No one, apparently, puts Joyce in the editing corner and more than a few reviews of her work have pointed out that her memoir suffers from the lack of it.

The only thing of Oates that I have ever tried to slog through was We Were the Mulvaneys. I didn’t get far. Her style is bloated and slow.

But her new memoir kicked up a bit of a tropical storm in grief culture circles because of a reviewer who dared to wonder – out loud – how Oates could leave out of her story the fact that she was dating and engaged to be married before the first anniversary of her husband’s death.

Oates herself threw out, by way of  explanation, a cliché – that widowed folk with long happy unions tend to be so grounded that they naturally move on to equally awesome new unions with more alacrity than those who had short and/or problem filled marriages. Which has always rung hollow for me because my anecdotal experiences have revealed no such pattern.

But this was lost in the vicarious rallying of the widowed around their favorite theme – no one outside the sacred brother/sisterhood has any business questioning or criticizing. So there.

Rational discussions – and there are some here and there – ignore anyone who brings up the very good point that Oates was being a bit disingenuous by leaving out the dating and remarriage thing. It’s not a small thing and it absolutely is valid to wonder what prompted her to leave it out.

“She didn’t want to be judged!”

Because we are so judged for remarriage. Yawn. Within the brother/sisterhood, we are. I’ll agree with that. But by and large the vast majority of people who don’t know us at all, or very well, find remarriage heartwarming and a just reward for our “suffering”. Aside from my late husband’s family and friends – and widows here and there on the ‘net, I never encountered judgment.

Or jealousy. There are, I hear, herds of divorced and never married women out there who will sneer and snipe at a remarried woman’s alleged “hogging” of the small pool of decent men their age. Which I don’t buy either.

Mate envy is almost a DNA XX code thing. We are taught to compete and undermine each other from an early age and some of us never quite rise above the early training meant to reinforce our Darwinian breeding drive. It’s not personal. It’s not widow-centric.

Was Oates looking to avoid envy? Wanting to compete with Didion’s dominance and firm hold on the title of “Widow of the Millenium”. Worried about the reaction of her fans? Critics.

I think she is too canny a promoter of herself and work to not have realized that including information about moving on to a new relationship would have really changed the focus of the book. It wouldn’t have been a pure “grief” memoir. And she wanted her story to focus on the sadness, the pain, the affronts aplenty from the non-grieving world. Moving on just doesn’t fit neatly into the “poor widow me” paradigm promoted by the current grief culture, which is about life long struggle with loss. Even if that isn’t actually true – it sells more books. And at the end of the day, Oates has been a writer longer than she was a widow.

People who write for a living are only as fresh and marketable as their last book. And they do look for the hot trends and try to shoe horn themselves in. Writing is a business.

One thing I read over and over from literary agents, editors and publishers is that even a memoir has to have a point and say something new. It needs a hook. It’s not enough to simply have survived a tragedy. People do that all the time. What’s different about your tragedy? What did you do that was different? How can you apply your epiphany in a way that’s inspiring and will move readers to more than just pity?

Oates told the typical widowed story ,if the examples and excerpts in the reviews are accurate, with the obligatory touch points that we all have come to recognize from other books, movies and tv. She gets away with it because she is already quite famous. An icon. The well-established are allowed to be trite and re-tell well-known tales without adding to the narrative in any significant way.

Even if she had copped to falling in love again during that first year, that isn’t a new story either. Though it’s a lot closer to reality and offers far more hope for people who are widowed.

Oates played to the readers she knew would likely be her audience. Women who are older and alone, looking to be validated. It was shrewd. Also, by leaving out her new husband, she guaranteed a bit of controversy. I doubt at all that she was surprised when one reviewer had guts enough to bring it up. I’d even venture to guess that she was counting on it.

The dead husband memoir genre is real. There are books and blogs aplenty. Workshops are built around them. Cult followings spring up. It’s a business that compels memorists and self-help writers to plug their offerings in the comment sections of blogs and every time they write on someone’s Facebook wall. That’s not altruism, you know. It’s marketing.

Every memoir has a hook. Oates’s is her well-established fame. She didn’t need anything else. But the average person does. My own story, which will never be published anywhere but in bits and pieces on this blog and in various comment sections of other people’s blogs here and there, has no hook. There is nothing special about my story. Young mother widowed. I am no different from a thousand others but for minutia.

Rob could sell his story. He’s a guy for starters. That’s not typical. He went on a quest of sorts after Shelley died to leave her ashes in all the places they’d loved. A man in his truck travels across America spreading the essence of the woman he loved in those sacred places that represented their life together. He even took pictures. People might read that.

Widowers being a rarer tug at the female heart-strings and they can sell tragedy that’s identical but for gender to a public that rolls its eyes and yawns at the female version. Young widowed father? Heart-warming. But a woman in similar circumstances is just another single mom.

But here’s the thing about memoir, everyone thinks that if they’ve lived something than they can write it in a way that resonates, enlightens and moves the discussion forward. If you’ve read enough blogs, you know that isn’t true. Living an event is not enough to make one an authority and it doesn’t ensure that one has anything to add to the subject. It also, doesn’t make one a writer.

Oates is a writer, though of the literary set, meaning she appeals to a limited audience most of the time. Memoir has a wider audience. Voyeurism can be counted upon in the U.S. at any rate. But I question the value of her contribution. It’s not like older couples are unaware of their mortality. We get old. We die. That a woman her age remarried is the bigger statistical surprise, but even that is a tired, well-worn story path.

She doesn’t strike me as someone who is too worried about what others think of her. She left out the second husband thing because it didn’t fit with the image of herself she was promoting. Very simple and strategic choice.

Being a widow has more cachet than being remarried after all. It conjures up all manner of heroic stereotypes. Look at Liam Neeson, for example, a recent interview touted his statement about “grief waking him up in the middle of the night”. I wonder how lines in the story touched upon the fact that he’s had a girlfriend now for quite a while? Actually, I don’t really wonder at all.

Widowhood is the hot.

Moving on? Not so much. Oates is a savvy woman.


Mary Magdalene

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When I was about seven or eight, I had a coloring book that retold stories from the Old Testament.

I know what you are thinking.

Huh?

I am fairly certain it arrived in my Easter basket along with a Skip-It, a new box of Crayolas and some chalk. The Easter Bunny was flush that year.

One of the stories was from the Book of Ruth, and as that is my mother’s name, it caught my eye. The drawings depicted a woman who also reminded me a lot of my mother physically though her obedient behavior and willingness to be a follower was not something I have ever associated with Mom, no matter what she may say about her demeanor back then.

Dad thought the story of Ruth‘s betrothal and marriage to a man named Boaz was a hoot because Boaz essentially seals the engagement by offering one of his sandals to Ruth’s kinsmen. He shared the story with all of his friends and some of them loved it so much that he was forever after known as “Boaz” in particular circles.

But I have told this story before.

What is interesting enough to prompt me to bring it up again springs from a couple of book reviews on two works soon to be published on biblical interpretation.

Fascinating stuff? More than you know.

In the days of the Protestant Reformation, one of the big deals the reformers sought – and the Catholic Church fought against – was printing the Bible in common language instead of Latin. Reformers believed that even the lowest rungs of society would benefit from being able to read the word of God for themselves. Rome cringed and declared that ordinary folk weren’t capable of interpreting scripture correctly. They would inevitably read the Bible wrong and heaven only knew what would come of that.

Ironically, the old school Catholic Church was correct to be concerned. The Bible is probably one of the most poorly understood and badly interpreted texts ever.

The authors of the new books want to set a few language and interpretation issues straight because they feel that the Christian right and the political right in the United States are deliberately promoting non-ideas and values based on faulty knowledge of the Bible.

Which brings me back to feet – Boaz’s – and Ruth.

In the story of Ruth, she pretty much puts the moves on Boaz at the insistence of her mother-in-law, Naomi.  Naomi’s late son was Ruth’s husband and Ruth had left her own tribe to be with him. Upon his death, custom dictated that Ruth could/should return to her own people but Naomi had no one immediate to help her and Ruth felt obligated to stay.

But when Boaz showed up on the scene, the wise Naomi pushed her daughter-in-law to move along. She knew that a second marriage for the childless widow was a better long-term plan for Ruth than staying with her.

My favorite “revelation” from the review talks about how sex is hidden in the Bible.

Basically there is sex on every page, but only if you know where to look for it.

As an eight year old, I had no idea that people had sex beyond kissing, and my Catholic school training certainly never covered Bible porn. Still, I knew there was more to Mommy and Daddy interactions than what was apparent to my eyes, and when I read that Ruth spent her wedding night sleeping at Boaz’s feet, I was puzzled.

“Why did she sleep at his feet when they were married?” I asked my Dad.

“Because in the old days, women were trained better, ” he quipped.

But according to scholars, there are more than a few places in the Bible where a foot is not a foot at all.

When biblical authors wanted to talk about genitals, they sometimes talked about “hands,” as in the Song of Solomon, and sometimes about “feet.” Coogan cites one passage in which a baby is born “between a mother’s feet”; and another, in which the prophet Isaiah promises that a punitive God will shave the hair from the Israelites’ heads, chins, and “feet.” When, in the Old Testament, Ruth anoints herself and lies down after dark next to Boaz—the man she hopes to make her husband—she “uncovers his feet.” A startled Boaz awakes. “Who are you?” he asks. Ruth identifies herself and spends the night “at his feet.”

My. My.

Now I wonder what the whole sandal thing was really all about.

Naturally this begs a bit of further exploration in terms of the rather famous New Testament incident involving Mary Magdelene washing Jesus’s feet and drying them with her hair.

As I remember, the disciples were quite scandalized and if the feet in question weren’t feet at all – that makes sense – and really sheds a different light on the Saviour.

But sometimes feet are feet. Like a cigar is just a cigar.

I won’t be telling the real story of Ruth’s foot worshipping to my mother, but it’s too bad Dad isn’t still around to hear the tale. That would set his ears to wiggling and earn me a look for sure.


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.