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eyeemfiltered1424964651142…the world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new-needs-friends… not everyone can become a great artist but a great artist can-come-from-anywhere.

 

-Anton Ego

The Art of Memoir

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When I was 13 years old I wrote a 25 page story about the day my grandmother died. I was in the middle of my summer vacation when my whole life came to a screeching halt.  My mother died when I was a year and a half so losing my grandmother meant I had lost the only mother I had ever truly known. I wanted to join her. Where ever she was I wanted to go there.

I saw the face of God in the moon that night. This giant smiling full moon hovering overhead; a glowing orb in a limitless sky that somehow knew my fate. I asked God to end my life. He said no. I begged. He said it was not my time. He made it clear that I still had a long life to live. Knowing this brought no solace to my despair… but writing did. Twenty five tear soaked pages later I felt well enough to talk about it.

Only two people read that story before it disappeared forever. I didn’t know the word memoir even existed back then let alone what it was. “It was an expression. Like art.” to quote my 18 year old daughter’s friend when I asked him why he wrote a story about a girl he was in love with. I asked him if he had ever thought about writing a memoir. He asked about what. I suggested his parents because of his Facebook post. He invited me out for coffee so I could give him some pointers.

The art of memoir is putting a reader inside your head and taking them through your experience. My daughters friend can tell me about what he’s been through but reading his well examined account of his feelings and seeing the world with his eyes is a whole lot better. That’s why I enjoy reading a good memoir and attempting to write one.

The Cross and the Memoir

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David Wilkerson’s THE CROSS AND THE SWITCHBLADE is a book that does not call itself a memoir but clearly is a great example of a well structured memoir story. There are many self help Christian books that give you a structure of here are some lessons learned from God juxtaposed with a true story from the author’s life. Mr Wilkerson’s book is written more like a novel. A good page turning novel that opens your eyes to how God works in his life. We see the bigger picture of his failures and his victories and how every decision led to the creation of Teen Challenge. God is an active character in this Christian novel. At least that is what the author believes. Some people may not believe in God so they don’t see God working in their life. They see fate or what ever else they care to lable it.

I bring up this story because when you sit down to write your memoir you may have to think about what role your beliefs will play in your own story. In my memoir God also plays a role in my story. Being raised Catholic you are told that God exist so I viewed life from that central belief. Suicide was always on my mind as a teen but so was the fear that if I killed myself I would go straight to hell. There is even an incident that occurs when I felt that God actually kept me safe from harm.

The Cross and the Switchblade is a memoir about one thing: how I came to be used by God to create a human recycling program called Teen Challenge. From sentence one we are thrust into THAT story. Not a story about his childhood or marraige or much else but just THIS adventure. If you believe in God it might be a good story for you. If you don’t then the story will be far fetched. Either way its a great example of a memoir that is written like a good novel.

My memoir is NOT trying to be a Christian memoir at all but God is in it. As He was and still is in my life.

The Solace of Memoir

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When I was in high school I signed up to participate in a therapy class. Like most of my peers I was there for the easy grade. It took a long time for anyone to really say much although the teacher did her best to get us to open up about anything serious. We were instructed not to speak outside of class about any thing that was shared inside of our group. But this was high school and people knew that gossip spread like wild fire. Nothing very personal was ever truly shared that is until the end of the semester when a girl decided to drop a bomb on us.

She began to cry even before she started speaking. Nobody had a clue what was coming nor were we equipped to handle such honesty.

She spoke about being molested… by her father. How it had been going on for years. I can still remember her face. The tears. Her mouth clenched with the pain of confession. I remember how uncomfortable I felt. Looking around everyone seemed to be feeling the exact same way.

She was very brave to share her secret with all of us. I hope that the teacher was able to help her. I wonder sometimes what became of her. Her countenance was etched upon my brain that day. I doubt I could ever be that bold. I can only write and confess my sins to God.

After the only mother I had ever known died before my eyes on the living room floor sprawled across our hideously green shag carpet I felt compelled to write and write until my tears left dried tracks on my cheeks. I was thirteen years old and I needed to tell my story or I would inevitably commit a fatal sin. I wanted to die but God wanted me to live or so I sensed at the time. I felt what ever God is all around me but only writing brought solace.

Only then did my pain mitigate enough to be able to share my thoughts. It became therapy for me long before I had ever heard of the word memoir.

Memoir can also be used to express the joy in life as well. To write about the utter joy that life can bring from seeing how the whole picture fits together.

Memoir: a Truthful Lie?

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How much of a memoir can be a bold face lie before someone labels it fiction? Perhaps Oprah knows. Does anyone recall ‘A Million Little Pieces’ ? I wasn’t into memoir then like I am now when Oprah busted James Frey for recreating his version of the truth. Nobody dupes Oprah and simply walks away with it. I guess she felt cheated. When people read a memoir they do believe what they are reading actually occurred.

Unless you kept a detailed diary of everything that happened or recorded conversations with people while you were talking with them you may, as a writer, have to make some stuff up. Some facts should be left alone: You might not recall the weather the day you lost your virginity but you better remember who you were with.
When writing a memoir you might believe that doing research is unnecessary since every memory is entirely in your head. Cross referencing your memories with someone who was actually there is always a good idea.
I was talking to my younger sister (who refuses to even look at my memoir because of personal reasons) about our childhood and she made me realize that my memories are not always entirely accurate. She was also able to jog my memory about events and people that I had forgotten. I have had writers block with my memoir lately and I believe it’s because I’m doing to much big picture thinking and not enough writing down what I do vividly remember. It’s impossible to recall every minute detail but I can piece it all together by remembering the most important moments. Hopefully Oprah won’t have my story fact checked. Then again the publicity might be worth it.

Helen Benedict wrote:

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The kind of truth I am talking about is the subjective truth of what it means to be a human being in the world. It is the substance of what happens to people not just on the outside, but within: the longings, the moral decisions, the defiance, suffering, pain, and triumphs of the human soul.