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.
When I decided to write a memoir I had a certain idea of what a memoir was. I’m sure we all have our own expectations as readers when we pick up a book labeled “memoir”. I know I do.
As I’m sure Oprah did. I didn’t like how Oprah publicly flogged James Frey in front of millions of people. I don’t believe it was Frey’s fault though. Oprah made a huge mistake that made such an event possible. She neglected to define what memoir was for herself. She neglected to examine the vast possibilities of memoir.
When I decided that I wanted my book to be categorized as a memoir I quickly realized that I needed to make sure that my definition of what a memoir was fit into that genre. I needed to define it for myself. There are some books that actually have the word memoir on its cover. That makes it easy. But some books don’t say memoir like ‘A Million Little Pieces’. That can make things a little foggy. We all need to define memoir for ourselves before we flog someone for not meeting our expectations. I like that memoir authors’ seem more up front and open about the idea of their books having embellishments and not being as accurate as a bio.
The movie Great Expectations with Ethan Hawk defines Memoir in its first few lines for me: I’m not going to tell my story as it happened, I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.
I’ve heard a writer say that memoir does not sell very well. But does memoir pay off? I guess it depends on your motive for writing your story. Many people feel like their “story” should be told. Even my 87 year old aunt (whom I consider to be more of a mother figure in my life than merely my Tia) was once told that her life would make a good book or movie. My Tia almost brags about it.
I tell her that she should let me write it down. Of course that seems like a daunting task to undertake. But the point is she feels her “story” is worth sharing. If it would sell is not what concerns me. I do feel that simply the act of telling her story would be very beneficial to her. 87 years old and she still weeps every time she recalls the way she was raised.
I chose to write a memoir about a particular time in my life when I decided to go after what I wanted verses what I actually felt I deserved. I would tell anyone willing to listen about my “story” even lovers, family, my wife, as well as my mistress!
But it wasn’t until I actually wrote it down and examined myself through older wiser eyes that I saw what I needed to see. I felt healed. I discovered a truth that helped me to put it all into perspective.
So does memoir pay off? It truly depends on what it is you are looking for. If you feel compelled to write it down then do it. You may discover something more important than fame or riches.