writing my memoir

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.

I am rewriting the beginning of the memoir. I think I mentioned that a while ago. The drafting went like a field afire after a summer drought, but despite the length (10,000 plus words) it was bones only. After letting Rob read it, I am fleshing it out. Slowly. Not that the words come slowly but the memories are far clearer than they have ever been and they compete viciously with the emotions that saturate them. The word count will easily have doubled by the time I am finished – next week sometime with luck – and then I have to meld it to the original.

I am excited about it. Really. Because it finally looks and sounds the way I have envisioned it all along. But, the scope sometimes pulls me up short. Feelings are going to be a bit raw when people read about incidents that went on that I never shared or when they discover my true feelings concerning events that involved them. I have wrestled with this from the moment I decided I would write about my experience and me and Rob. I still haven’t worked it out completely.

Memoir is a subjective form of storytelling. And it is the telling of a story. The story happens to be true, but it’s a limited viewpoint and one that is faulty unless the author happens to be omniscient and even the bible lacks the all knowing third person.

One thing I noticed as I have gone about the business of living these last six years is that nearly everyone I had contact with had no problem foisting their interpretation of circumstances on me and expecting me to agree with them regardless of the veracity, so I have decided to proceed and write it the way I recall it and show how I felt. It might not match up with others’ recollections. So be it. The beauty about memoir is that everyone has a life and they are welcome to write about it from their own point of view. As long as one isn’t trying to settle scores or be cruel, and recognizes that it may result in some “splaining”, memoir is a good way to maintain the tradition of personal/family oral histories that help us to know and understand one another.

Six years. It was six years this past summer. Even digging up the events that led to Will’s being diagnosed weren’t enough to bridge that span for me entirely. He is so long gone, and the person I was disappeared along with him. The interesting thing? I don’t miss her.

My NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words was reached and slightly surpassed this morning at 50,197 words, and I am only at Idaho Falls. This despite a rather annoying interruption early last week the resolution of which still continues to elude me.


At breakfast this morning, Rob related an article at The Zoo about Joe the Plumber. Seems he has a book deal. Seriously? Well, if that is the case – who can’t get published these days? Certainly improves my odds, don’t you think? Read Full Article