“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write towards vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
What’s the Story Behind the Photos?
Then we can relate even without ever playing baseball.
We have all had choices to make in our lives that either at the time, or when reflecting on the outcomes, determine our attitude towards our lives. In memoir, we’re identifying the defining choices with an eye for detail about them. ______
Memoir: The Narrow Focus
Memoirs help us put our lives and situations into focus; an added perspective that we didn’t have because we felt isolated, alone or the only one who experienced something. And it’s not just about tragedies in our lives. It’s joy, self-discovery, shared happiness, angst, and writing in a way that envelops the reader in the familiar emotions, thoughts and situations. It’s isolating your theme and developing it.
William Zinsser advises, “Write about small, self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory. If you remember them, it’s because they contain a larger truth that your readers will recognize in their own lives. Think small and you’ll wind up finding the big themes in your family saga.”
It is the family saga that is critical in memoirs. Our baseball player for instance. What do we know about the facts of his life?
- He had desires and dreams of being a surgeon.
- His parents couldn’t afford to send him to college
- We know his parents discouraged his dreams as well.
- We know that he was successful in his baseball career.
However, merely recording the facts without the emotions and thoughts do not create connections for the reader. But when you consider that each person has had a dream, some were not able to pursue them, or others were discouraged from accomplishing their dreams, then memoir works on many levels.
- Did he enjoy his stardom, fame, and money?
- What did he feel he sacrificed to satisfy his parents?
- Did he regret his decision not to follow his dream of being a surgeon?
Maybe he lets us in on the darker side of fame, thus letting us know that our ordinary lives, while not lived in the limelight, are more secure, and we can walk away from his story feeling better.
That’s what memoirs do; they make us think about the lives of others as their story relates to our lives. We can discover that others have made choices with difficult outcomes, or we can be appreciative of the choices we made. Regardless of our thoughts and feelings after reading a powerful memoir, we know that the piece was filtered through:
Each writer will try to make sense of the moon through their writing. It’s descriptive of emotions, thoughts, and actions that closely resemble the moon, but are still only the moon in the writer’s eyes. Anyone else living at the time would describe the events from their perspective.
So there’s always the danger of writing the memoir and having family, friends and associates saying that isn’t how it was. Their perceptions of the events will be filtered through their emotions, thoughts and perspectives.
Scared to Write Your Truth? Don’t Be
“How do we deal with all the people we’ve been? What happens when we have to confront them?” ― Rachel Kapelke-Dale, Graduates in Wonderland: The International Misadventures of Two (Almost) Adults
For the past twenty-eight years, I’ve been a different person. I’m someone in recovery from substance abuse. Recovery has forced me to reflect, remember and review my life. I also opened and ran an award-winning recovery home for women from 1990-2011. Those years fostered an appreciation for the power of reflective writing and memoir. About a year ago, I was encouraged to chronicle my addiction, recovery and opening the women’s house.
As I’m writing, I see the transformations and common appeal, not just for people in recovery, but for anyone who has a dream. It’s the conflicts, discouraging stigmas of society, overcoming obstacles, and finding a purpose.
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