Thursday, October 20, 2016

Being Known


Many memoir writers hope to be known through their stories. We hope by writing down what has happened to us, others will see us more clearly, we will be understood, acknowledged.

This is a dangerous gamble for memoir. If it is hard enough for us to feel known with real-life people right in front of us, who are already sympathetic and helped us live our story, the chances of a stranger picking up an essay or book and really feeling us in a genuine way are even smaller.

One of Natalie Goldberg's most famous expressions is "Don't use writing to get love." Most of us, if we are honest, do hope not just for recognition (fame, money, etc - the kind of "known" Katz refers to in her book) but also to be KNOWN in some deep way by sharing our stories, baring our souls. 

We need to be clear about what kind of "being known" we seek. Is it simply to garner fame? Rarely that simple. Is it to gain acknowledgement of what we have been through, or the prowress of our writing skills? Possible, but also uneven. Or is it that we want to be truly known as humans, really seen and accepted? This last kind of search will not be fulfilled by being published, I can all but guarantee it. For everyone person who sends you a personal letter, letting you know how much your story meant to them, there will be 15 others who dismiss it, write a bad review, and 1500 who don't care about it at all.

Does this mean you shouldn't bother?
Not at all!
But keep checking in with yourself about what it is you really want. Looking at your need to be KNOWN is important, and being realistic about how you seek it is crucial. If you are still convinced at some level that being famous, should that even be a result, will bring you a sense of Peace, all you have to do is read the words of famous writers and memoirists - their isolation, the gap between how others see them and their actual selves in particular.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't bother. You need to do it for the right reasons, is all. And if you desire to be truly known and accepted, use the writing process itself to more deeply accept and acknowledge yourself, seeking out supportive readers who can positively but clearly and precisely give you feedback on your story and how you tell it. 

That way, by the time you are "known", if that's how your writing turns out, you will already feel KNOWN, and have relationships to come back to for support when (if) fame comes along.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this helpful parsing out of intention, desire, and desired audience around writing our stories.
    As for writing and creativity in general, I have been relating to my own ambitions differently over the years. I had the a-ha moment of realizing that the desire to be "known" by strangers--of having some large-scale or distant impact on the imagined "public" was something not necessarily more valvuabel to me than the pleasures and deep satisfaction of WRTING LOCAL--having connection and being heard/listening in own neck of the woods, among people I actually know. That's an eyes open satisfaction and upends blind ambition in my experience so far. . . thank you!