When someone sits down to dinner with you and the first they they say is “I don’t want you to write about this” you know it’ll be an interesting evening.
“It’s what I do,” I responded.
And it IS. I tell my story. It’s how I process my life. How I learn from it. And funny thing: when I share it I find others also learn from what I’ve written. Because I write about the human condition.
I have never written about that dinner and I never will. But I AM writing a memoir and that includes some things that are not going to be flattering to some in my family. Most of the folks in my story are gone now, but still, sometimes the picture isn’t pretty.
Excavating my life
it’s personal, though. What I write is a byproduct of excavating my own childhood and how I got to be the person I am. It’s about how easily broken kids are and how that can change the entire course of their lives. It’s my story, no one else’s.
It is not an abuse memoir. I’ve read some of those by survivors: child abuse, sexual abuse, substance abuse. Dark and pretty much all the same. No, this is a story of a more nuanced survival. A more circuitous journey that isn’t all dark. But it’s fraught with missed connections and denial. As I trace back my route to the place I’m in now, I’m excavating connections I’d never made before.
And yes, a memoir IS about the writer but it’s really about the author’s interaction with others. That’s where the rubber meets the road.
I’ve always loved Anne Lamott’s famous quote about memoir:
“You own everything that happened to you.
Tell your stories.
If people wanted you to write warmly
about them, they should have behaved better.”
Well, look, I would never set out to get revenge by writing about someone. Or to damage someone. It’s not why I write. But she’s right in this: we DO own everything that happened to us and those of us who are story tellers are going to do that from our point of view.
Earlier this year I had a session with one of my favorite mediums, Hollister Rand. Toward the end, she said this:
“Oh, your mother is here with a message for you: ‘PULL NO PUNCHES,’ she says. ‘Tell it the way it was.’ And you know, your mother wasn’t like that in life. She was all about appearances. But not now. Now, she wants you to tell the truth.”
That was big. And right on the money. Hollister had no idea I was writing anything. And I wasn’t far enough into the writing to see that I was going to tell hard truths. But clearly, my mother knew.
A surprising story
I’m ready to tell my story. It’s not the story I thought I’d be telling. It’s a deeper one. It requires me to be more vulnerable than I ever was. To confront hard truths. And whether it reflects well on people or not, it IS the truth and since most of them are on the other side now, I know that they are ok with it.
Nothing I write is going to be a surprise to people in my family. They knew most of it already. They just never talked about it. No one talked about it.
But now? I am writing about it.
And what’s even more surprising (to me) is that I have written about part of it AND performed it publicly this spring, revealing some of my greatest vulnerabilities and some things I have only rarely talked about with anyone. I performed it, said it out loud and I survived.
I am a story teller.
My writing colleagues believe the story is worth telling. They think I am telling it well.
And so, I am heading for my little house in Rochester NY next week for a month alone to focus almost exclusively on this memoir. I am VERY excited to start.
Please send any good ju-ju my way.