The Trouble With Memoir

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This past November, I was fully planning on writing a memoir for NaNoWriMo. I changed my mind at the last minute because the perfect idea for my next novel dawned on me on the last evening of October. Well, that’s the lie I told myself anyway.

The truth is that yes, I did get a great idea for my next novel and I did spend November writing that story. But that isn’t really why I didn’t write a memoir. I didn’t write a memoir because I simply wasn’t ready to write it. And my discomfort had nothing to do with being open about things that are personal; my reservations were firmly grounded in how my audience would see some of the other characters in my story.

In my search about how to write about sensitive topics that could depict loved ones in a negative light, I listened to a TED talk given by world renowned author Anne Lamott. She said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” And while I do believe that we own our individual stories, I also believe that those stories are closely intertwined with the stories of those who share our lives, and we cannot always detangle our story from theirs.

So taking into consideration that entanglement, do we really have the right to tell only our side of the story? The fact of the matter is, we all make mistakes. We all say or do things at some point in our lives that we end up regretting. So if you write about the injustice that I did to you regardless of whether or not I have made amends, is that fair? Is that fair to my story? Is it fair to your story? Keep in mind that your reader will not love your loved ones as much as you, no matter how true-to-life you draw them. So while you may have accepted their apology and forgiven them, your readers won’t feel the same way. It is very possible that, for them, the poignant moment in the memoir will be the moment of betrayal not the moment of repentance. So forever in your readers’ minds, that father will be abusive, that child a druggie, or that wife a cheater. Is that how you want the world to see those people who mean(t) so much to you?

In Behind Picket Fences, one of my characters poses the question, “Don’t those we love… or loved… or those who have shared our lives, don’t they deserve to be forgiven for their mistakes?” And really, that is the main question I think a writer has to consider before writing about the bad behavior of people who are or were precious to her.

I tend to think that the answer to that question is, generally, yes. And I can’t very well claim to have forgiven someone if I’m still hashing out how they wronged me, no matter how true the story is. And if it’s not about a wrong done to me personally but a societally accepted wrong, what do I hope to gain by outing them? Perhaps that’s the main question.

A memoir can be about a great deal of things. It can be about sharing life experiences that teach valuable lessons. Or just about healing. Often, to do these things, we need to re-live those negative moments in our lives, re-live the process which brought about the hurt. And to do that, we need to be honest to the story.

Being honest, though, doesn’t mean the story needs to be published. The healing memoir can take the form of a personal journal, reserved for the eyes of only the author. Because I can’t very well claim to publish a memoir to heal if in doing so I will hurt others, especially if those others have been important to me.

I don’t know. I’m still torn. I know that one day I’ll write a memoir, but I also know that it won’t be the one I thought I would write. It will be about hurt and strength and compassion and forgiveness, and I hope to write in such a way that you, my readers, will love my loved ones as much as I do.

But I know I can’t count on that.

 

What do you think? Do you have the right to tell your story no matter how it affects others? Is it always your story to tell? Is there ever a time when it isn’t? Would love to hear your thoughts…

 

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The Importance of Encouragement

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Back when I was in high school, anyone who wanted to be on the tennis team was allowed. No one was cut, but the only players who actually competed were the top eight. All fifteen or twenty of us practiced together every weekday afternoon, and we all attended the matches held against teams from other schools. Our top eight played against their counterparts, and the rest of us played exhibition matches or cheered on the members of our team. And although I took it for granted then—and probably most of us did—the truth is that that cheering we did from the sidelines, those screams of “Nice point,” “Keep it up,” and “This set is yours,” were an essential element in how our team performed. They played to it. Our cheers drove them on, gave them confidence and determination. And if they happened to lose a point, the “Shake it off! You can do this!” helped them to keep moving forward.

Part of the reason why I won NaNoWriMo this year was because of the tremendous support I received from both my writer and non-writer friends. When I was starting to doubt that I would actually be able to write fifty thousand words in one month, my friend commented, “You’ve got this!” And that made me want to “get this.” It gave me the push I needed to keep writing, to keep working toward my goal.

That’s how people function; we do better when we have a support system. It’s true in sports and any organized activity. What we sometimes lose sight of, however, is that this concept is not only for those short term goals of winning a game or finishing a project. This concept of cheering others on to help them persist or improve is also true in everyday life. We do it with our children all the time. “Great job on that math test! Keep it up!” Or “Your book report was so well written. I’ll bet you could write a story of your own.” Although our children get this support from us often, we sometimes neglect to cheer on the adults in our lives. Whether it be colleagues at work, or other mom’s in our real or online communities, or even our spouses, these important people in our lives will truly prosper from our consistent encouragement.

Helping others elevates you. It exudes kindness and generosity—two traits that are important to the betterment of this world. So I try to do my little part. I try to support the artists I’m connected with not just by clicking ‘like’ on their posts and telling them I appreciate their work, but by reviewing their books/products and collaborating with them on projects and giveaways. I support entrepreneurs that I know by spreading the word about their ventures and recommending their services or products. I support the mothers I know by holding their hands when the road is bumpy, dragging them up when they need it, and celebrating with them in their victories. Even though I may disagree with another mother on her parenting techniques, I still tell her, “You’re doing a great job.” I support my husband by telling him how much I appreciate his hard work and that I know he is one of the best in his field despite how tiring and stressful it is for him.

And even though I’m just one person in their sea of friends and acquaintances, I know that my support matters. I know that my cheers make a difference, because each and every word of encouragement that has been sent my way has helped me to keep moving forward and to improve.

No matter where you are in life, you will always have a chance to pull someone up; take it. You’ll never regret sending kindness and generosity into the world.

Whispers

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‘It’s just a little white lie,’ he whispers into your ear. ‘You’ll finish that report after you play the game…your mom doesn’t need to know exactly when you got it done.’ You call out that you’ve finished, the video game shaking in your hand and you hold your breath and listen. When her footsteps fade down the hall you force that feeling of guilt away with an unsure smile.

He’s a little one…still young. They start out small, too.

‘So many people do this; it’s not a big deal,’ he murmurs inaudibly as you nod your head and shove the pack of cigarettes to the bottom of the drawer, hidden beneath neatly folded shirts. ‘Good, now no one needs to know and you can smoke whenever you want,’ he cheers in his unheard voice.

He’s a bit older, a bit bigger. And he accompanies you everywhere you go.

‘If they didn’t want you to cheat, they wouldn’t give you unsupervised exams. You think everyone here is actually following the honor code?! No one is…why should you?’ His voice is firm. Watching you copy the answers from the book, he chuckles imperceptibly.

He’s an adult now. And he thinks he has full control over you.

‘You have no choice,’ he screams silently into your soul. ‘She’s given all her attention away with nothing left for you. That other woman will give you comfort. Call her, go to her. It’s your only chance for happiness.’

He sits between you and the woman who carried you through the years, consoled you in the dark and reflected your sunshine in the light, the one who planned to stand by you and lift you up, even if it meant that would cause her to drown. He sits between you, his presence tangible, causing you to look upon her with disdain. His laughter tears apart your life as he places it on his shelf as another trophy won, another paradise so gracefully brought to rubble.

Following his whispers – one by one – from his child form till he became a titan, you watched goodness collapse and your world crumble.

There had always been another voice, you know. There had been an inner feeling, guiding you away from him, urging you to remain pure, pleading with you to ignore the whispers.

It’s still there, that inner feeling. It’s not too late to tune out his whispers.

Tune out his whispers and tune in to you.

New Breath

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Your tongue shot the bullet that pierced my heart,

Rang confusion in my ears,

Filled my lungs with smoke…

And choked my soul.

Beaten and broken,

Without a friend to turn to,

I fell to my knees and whispered,

“God…my heart is heavy. I’m so very sad.”

He let me cry all the tears I needed,

Until His Grace covered me,

And I finally fell asleep.

Now my laughter is the dam

Which keeps the tears at bay,

Hanging to the thread of hope,

That the nightmare be forgotten,

That your shoulders have the strength to hold me.

All the while,

I whisper to my Lord,

Begging Him to bless us,

Begging Him to destroy the demons

Before

They destroy

Us.

A Different Language

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You and I,

We don’t speak the same language.

Your mind understands my words,

But it’s not your mind I need to reach.

The words of my heart are clear:

Respect me – honor me – cherish me.

But you don’t understand all that’s left unsaid.

You don’t hear all my soul has screamed.

It calls to you,

It tells you to reach for me,

It tells you to wrap me in the warmth of your safety.

Your mind understands my words,

But it’s not your mind I need to reach.

When you offer me a morsel,

Give it life, then walk away,

I try to untangle what you’ve said,

Try to filter out the pain.

My mind understands your words,

But it’s my heart that feels the hurt.

You continue, in your manner,

With nothing else to say.

Foolishly, I wait for more.

You and I,

We don’t speak the same language.

A Simple Apology

I was LIVID!! Smoke was starting to come out of my ears!! I mean, how often do I even see him during the whole month? And here he was, on the phone with a friend…for TWO WHOLE HOURS!! I didn’t care if he was helping this guy with an issue he was having with his fiancee!! Two hours was just too much to take!

And I wasn’t going to let it go.  As soon as he hangs up, I told myself, I’m gonna let him have it! He never gets it when I tell him he spends too much time on the phone, so this was not going to be pretty.

Finally, he hung up. And walked over to me. When he was about 6 or 7 feet away, he says–repeatedly as he continues to walk–“I’m  sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

And somehow…magically…that was all it took to put out my anger.

Sometimes a simple apology makes the biggest difference.