The Meeting of Memoir and Art
I want to follow up on last week’s post about how people, in this case my mother, chose to share some parts of her life with me, but not others. Because a mother has so much influence on how we see ourselves and the world, I think we are entitled to know more about her life, then perhaps we need to know about the lives of other people.
If you are visiting with a friend, you might choose to share some very personal emotional experiences. If you are at a business conference, you might enjoy someone’s company very much, but still choose to converse about topics that you have a common reference to, and most likely you would refrain from giving “too much information.”
Writing a memoir falls somewhere in between the two examples. As the author, I needed to let the reader see much more of my mother’s private life than I would normally tell other people, even family members. I also had to reveal much more of my own inner life than I would normally share. Sometimes I had to dig deep and even verbalize inner experiences that I might otherwise not have looked at, or put into words.
As a memoir writer, I had to give you everything. Please forgive me for quoting the judges on American Idol (you see I have diverse interests), but they often tell contestants that as artists, they need to “leave it all on the stage.” Writing a book is the same way, at least a personal and authentic book like a memoir. I didn’t want to talk about my life when my mother remarried, I didn’t want to talk about some of my own insecurities and my anger. But good coaches pushed me to write about the very things I didn’t want to write about, because you, the reader, needed to see what was behind my actions, what my inner conflicts were, and why this journey was such a breakthrough.
And then, after sitting at my computer month after month, sometimes sobbing, sometimes laughing, sometimes feeling anxious, I had to let go of alot of what I wrote, because a book written for others is not the same as a keeping a journal, though they may go together. When my stream of consciousness carried me to what it was like to get up in the early morning in Eastport, Maine, and walk along the heath while vapors rose off Passamaquoddy Bay and the birds in Princess Cove began to sing their wake up songs, I let myself write. Later I had to look at the arc of the story, the intention of the narrative, and delete some of my “darlings.” That’s what one of my editors told me. “You have to let go of your darlings and really focus on the intent of the story.”
Writing is such a wonderful form of expression–creative, satisfying, challenging, fulfilling, and there is also a great deal of craft, discipline and surrender that is needed for the marriage of memoir and art.
What have you noticed when you write? Tell us about your experiences.