Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Memoir Vs. Memoirs

For a long time, the word memoir only existed in the plural.

Picture it: a rich Lord sits around his estate after a long life of plundering and looting, and decides it is time to write his memoirs. He wants to tell all the tales of his life, from being a young lad who aced cricket to marauding the barbarians to his retirement and marriage to a much younger woman.

This is what most of us picture (or some version therein; famous stars, former presidents, you name it) when we hear the word "memoir." But that is a whole other kettle of fish from what memoir is.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Brooke Warner on Liability in Memoir

This is such a good article, i am just going to link to it. I especially agree with this closing passage, which could really start the article, and suggestion #3.


Check out Brooke Warner's classes and She Writes - great community and resources. And this new anthology Warner edited, mentioned in this article.

Here's the quote -

"If you’re afraid of a big fallout, consider whether that fear might be your inner critic at work, making you bad and wrong for exposing someone or something that you’re not “supposed” to share. Going against the grain and exposing yourself and others is the number one scariest experience of memoir writing. You may need to be in dialogue with your critic to ease its mind so you can continue to write your truth. Remember that you are brave and in charge of what you ultimately share or don’t share, and you have time between starting your book and publishing it to make incremental choices and edits along the way."

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Waking Takes Time: PTSD and Memoir

Recently, I've been involved in learning a technique to help relieve PTSD. The project is focused around helping vets and their families, but the fact is, the organization also knows plenty of people have PTSD from non-explicit war circumstances: rape, abuse when growing up, even event-specific PTSD from things like 911.

I've also had some conversations with therapists who insist we cannot work on memoir until we have cleared the triggers around our PTSD. The fact is, as of now, I have yet to see anything, included the technique I am learning and offering, to clear those memories entirely. I've pointed to this before in this blog, here. But also, I am skeptical that waiting until we have reached some state of clarity is useful. There are exceptions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Embodied Love

There's no hotter topic in memoir than love.

To look at someone's sexual history up close (from trite 365 day dating projects, to heartfelt analyses of former lovers) is something a lot of us seem to be craving.

To reveal love in the context of marriage or divorce is also big (Eat, Pray, Love).

But in her book In the Body of the World, Eve Ensler breaks open all our previous concepts of love and bodies, sex and sexism. She slashes together her own bouts with cancer alongside rape in Congo with incredible eloquence. She has been there, owns her privilege, never lets her memoir be only her story of love, or sex, or rape, or loss. An incredible blend of the personal and political.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Ancestral Keys

The following is a spontaneous Haibun (she didn't know this form existed, combining prose and haiku) by a student, following our most recent Read and Write where we shared and discussed Alice Walker's The Temple of My Familiar.

As maddening as it can be to have to write and rewrite our way through old personal stories (if memoir) or characters' life events (if fiction), the fact is, most of writing is re-writing, and most of re-writing is simply understanding. If memoir, simply understanding what we believed without realizing we believed it - or could believe differently - this whole time.

The Key The Old One Gave Me - 

Barbara Samuel


I wish there had been a key, but I had to open the door myself by writing about him.  By writing about him I learned what I did not know before.  The key was in the writing.  The key was hidden for nearly two decades after he’d already died.  I had created a story and carried it all my life.  I can’t remember when I made that story, but it seemed true enough.  I believed it.  Only when I began to write did the story fall apart.  I could no longer hold my story together.  The words of my story floated away, lost their meaning.  As I wrote about my father, I discovered him again and wished I had created a different story so long ago.  As I wrote about my father, I saw a different man than the one I thought I knew, even though I wrote only what I already knew.


I began to forgive him for all the things he had done to make me hate him.  No, I began to forgive myself for hating him.  That is hard to do.  Because I can’t go back and tell him I’m sorry for hating him.  I can’t make it right.


The key to my father is in the words I write about him.  I have not yet stepped all the way through the door, but I’m getting closer.


What animal sleeps

Beneath fertile years of earth

Waking in my roots


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Selling Childhood

This last week, a relative put on the market the last piece of property my family owned: a cottage near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. My family was in good fortune to have four properties over the generations - the house I grew up in, in Appleton, Wisconsin; a greystone in Chicago, Illinois; my grandmother's house in Woodstock, Illinois; and this cottage. All of the other properties got sold closer to the deaths of the folks who owned them initially - this one stayed in the family.

It's been a long process, including digging up the cremains on the property so we wouldn't leave a graveyard there. Not easy. When the listings did finally appear, I was a bit shocked - there it is! Some parts of it look exactly as they have for over forty years, some parts are newer because of some room remodeling. Nothing unknown, except that kind of aspirational zen quality that comes with empty rooms, a sort of "Hey, maybe I could make this work for me," feeling that always crosses my mind with property for sale and rooms empty like blank canvasses.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

questions about memoir

Recently, I was asked to fill out some questions for a woman who is writing a book on creativity. It's a project in progress, and I don't know if my answers will be included, but they were an interesting enough time capsule that I wanted to include them here. The book is currently titled: True You - How to Be Creative In An Already Full Life. I'll start with the key question for me which revealed, quite extemporaneously, something I had gone through and not quite realized I'd gotten through it:

Now, or in the past, has finding and taking time for your creative pursuits created any disruptions or problems in your relationships or obligations with family, friends, co-workers or others? If so, how did you handle and/or solve these issues. Specific situations and examples would be extremely helpful.

My answer, as surprising to me as to anyone else:
In the past, I have often felt as if what I want to make - whether the content compromises or could compromise someone I love, or our relationship is impacted by the time I want to spend creating - cannot happen without sacrificing my relationship to the people I love.

But I am starting to think it simply isn't the case.

For instance, in my memoir, for the longest time I thought I absolutely had to include certain family details (I will not share them here, but let's call them very potent and also damaging to those who were involved). If I had persevered, I likely would have wound up severing some of the only family relationships I have left (there aren't many). In the end, I cannot say virtuously that I chose not to include those details because of a moral decision - frankly I realized it had to do with the plot, the arc, the point of my story - however, I can say that overall my story now, as written, is less about victimhood, less about "what others did to me" and more about "how I have worked with my life" and resilience. In doing so, in shifting the focus to me, ironically, I actually save the honor of others, which after all didn't need sacrificing so much.

I believe in truth, and each of us having our own truth (though it changes constantly for me). I also believe in boundaries, and maintaining healthy family relationships. But it's taken awhile - and luckily many rejected manuscripts - for me to realize the deepest hurts aren't always what need to be shared.