Monday, January 18, 2016

Is Memoir Vanity or An Act of Love?


Not everyone understands why some write their memoirs. They dismiss it as narcissistic vanity. Why write something so personal they ask? Who cares?

Stories are my passion so I am biased that writing the truth of our stories is an act of love. In telling our stories, we accept our own imperfections, our flaws and our gifts.  Hopefully, we bring to the conversation something which “speaks to” – maybe even enlightens – all of us. This is the alchemy, the magic – the transmutation – of life story writing: taking the chemical element that is lead and turning it into gold.

That said, not everyone is fascinated with hearing the truth. And writing our stories doesn’t mean you hold the keys to truth, rather your truth, pardon the overused expression in the memoir community.

In my own memoir Again in a Heartbeat, I didn’t glamorize myself or my marriage with John. I might have even taken it too far – becoming the “villain” for screaming at my dying husband – “I wish I’d never met you!”.

It was an act of bravery for me to reveal how much pain I was in at the prospect of imminent loss by portraying my own vulnerability in hopes it might give others going through a similar journey the knowledge they're not alone.

As writers we take on the role of “truth speaker.” Yet, we know what often happened to those. They were burned at the stake. Still, this is our goal as writers. To speak the truth as best we can, to move out of the way and let the message resonate with our readers.

This "confidence of voice" has been especially challenging for women.

In Lena Dunham’s bestselling memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, a young woman tells you what she’s ‘learned’, she writes:
"There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman. As hard as we have worked and as far as we have come, there are still so many forces conspiring to tell women that our concerns are petty, our opinions aren’t needed, that we lack the gravitas necessary for our stories to matter. That personal writing by women is no more than an exercise in vanity and that we should appreciate this new world for women, sit down, and shut up.”
Silencing confident women remains prevalent.

So . . . not only do writers need to think outside the box, but how their stories might be in service to others as a way to help others speak.  In my memoir, Morning at Wellington Square, I tried to portray coming to terms with loss by giving back, using my gifts and talents in community.This became the Women's Writing Circle, a group which I believe - and hope - offers women a chance to share their stories in camaraderie and support, as well as offer an instructional environment in the craft of writing.

There is a great deal of difference between self-love and excessive interest in oneself.

I have either led or been in writing groups where writers forgo their talents and insights to rant about past hurts or wounds. They get so caught up in anger, they forget to honor the healing aspects of their stories. Like a two-year-old child demanding attention, they indulge in the narcissism of “me, me, me” . . .

Religious mystics and contemplatives have always known this: the deeper you go, the more you spiral both down and up in your journey.

The creative medium that is writing leads to awakening - and opens the writer to the great possibility of connecting with others. It's a joy and maybe even the ultimate act of love.

Artwork today and last week on this blog by Philadelphia/Tucson artist Marcie Feldman.

Your thoughts and comments are most welcomed.
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