Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Coming Home Through Memoir

The holidays, at least for many of us, is a time when facing the compelling narrative of our lives is unavoidable.  Tradition and family and the roles we played in that narrative meld into one melodrama.  The exhaustion of the expectations, we mutter to ourselves!

Why is it that I always felt I needed to caretake, she wonders?  Was it because of those Christmases at the dinner table where her mother wept how much she missed her parents, how she felt so lonely and lost and I, as the only daughter, felt the unspoken message to be strong?

Memories are triggers for why we react as we do with certain people. She's so spoiled, it is always about her and how she can feel better about herself, never what I might want or need. I don't want her as a friend anymore. 

The desire to begin sorting and making sense of it becomes powerful.  Writing is the surest way to do that.

One of the great gifts for me has been memoir. It keeps giving, not just through the self-knowledge generated by writing and taking the longer view of life, but in connecting with other people in the most human and real sense of the words.  As author Christina Baldwin writes in Storycatcher, Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story: "Events become real when we organize experience into narrative."

As I work on my next book, I find myself "coming home again" through memoir. Writing illuminates the teenage girl who never "fit in," the widow who buried her grief, the journalist whose paper favored youth over age and experience, the daughter who never escaped her tendency to provide emotional support to others, but is learning the importance of boundaries.

I have been reading oral historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Studs Terkel. One of his books is a series of compelling narratives as told to Terkel by older people who look back on their lives, their careers, their hopes and dreams without sentimentality or embellishment.

As Katherine "Kit" Tremaine told Terkel in Coming of Age:  "I was always seeking something outside.  I finally found it when I left my second husband after thirty years.  I was in my early sixties.  It was a big move.  I got into my car and headed down our long driveway, down to my little beach house.  I thought to myself, 'I've done it!'  Suddenly this tremendous feeling of joy rose up in me.  I began to realize that the world was full of people just like me."

And so it is this holiday season, a time to let the writing lead us to a place of  freedom and fulfillment - to come home again to who we truly are and were always meant to be. 
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