Monday, November 19, 2018

Thoughts on the Popularity of Writing Memoir

This past week at the writing circle, a woman approached me. “Why do you think memoir is so popular?” I knew, like many in the group, she wrote life stories carved out of vivid memories. A writing prompt, or just listening to others read their stories, was all the nudge needed to put pen to paper.

I gave her a stock answer. Memoir is popular because people love true stories, I said. The popularity of memoir writing—not including celebrity memoir—has also been due to women feeling this was their time to find voice and embrace their stories before it is too late.

What I didn’t say and only thought of afterward was that we write memoir because it is a grieving process, a way of letting go. When someone we love dies, divorces us, denies us or moves on, we lose a part of ourselves. We have our memories, but the experiences, the history we had together, is no more. Who were we with that person? So, we write, I think.

One thing is clear. Life is about searching for meaningful connections. There are people who represent the ‘what’ in our lives (what they do for me)…and then there are those representing the ‘who’…. In other words, you don’t expect the same relationship from the bank teller or your hair dresser that you do from your husband or wife, your son or daughter, or a cherished friend. These are the relationships—built on trust—that offer the great gift of digging deep and discovering who we are.

As the philosopher Martin Buber once said, “All actual life is encounter.”

As writers, we record the “encounters.” It is foolishness to think any of us will be remembered after we die because everyone we know will die too; but in the meantime, the best we can hope for lies in connecting with each other through stories, which is why I love the writing circles. A writer takes a talking stone…possessing words like ‘hope’ and ‘brave’ and all our attention is focused on her as she reads.

I don’t have a big family, so my Thanksgiving will be a quiet affair, albeit with good food—a turkey cooked by my sons on the smoker (which Lily loves because we do it outdoors) and side dishes of macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes garnished with cranberries. The best part is that I get to spend Thanksgiving with the two people in the world I love the most—my sons. Together we dig deep into our feelings and, truthfully, there are few, if any, secrets between us—at least that I am aware. We remember with gratitude the man who made it all possible—my late husband and their father, John M. Cavalieri, who inspired my memoirs. 

For many, though, Thanksgiving can be ruthless. The curmudgeons, the people who make life difficult are far too many. The betrayals that bring out hurt and anger. The truth is, that’s another reason we write memoir. There’s grief in those encounters too. But by writing about them, we can let go of the pain.

How about you? Why do you think memoir is so popular?

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