Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Power of Memoir

For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated by story.

The way that the tale unfolds is just as riveting to me as the delivery of the story teller.

I'm enamored by their facial expressions, physical gestures, pausing and intonation of the language.

If I'm reading, I'm suspended in my own imagination wondering what the characters look like, who they are to each other and ultimately, what will happen.

And then, probably annoyingly to some, if I am hearing a story face-to-face, I can't help but probe.  When I'm sitting next to a stranger at a park or on a plane or even in line at the grocery store, I ask questions about their lives long after I've concocted my own stories about who they are and what their plans are for the day.

Almost everyone I talk to indulges me and that's because I'm certain that everyone has a story to tell.

But rarely do I stop there, most of the time, I continue to share my own stories and traditionally, the farther removed the person is from my life, I'm likely to engage on a deeper level.  It feels less risky and bizarrely, more cathartic.

And that is why I had been desperate for yesterday to come...when the brilliant Mary Karr's amazing new piece, "The Art of Memoir" was released.  I kept checking my phone for the text from Amazon indicating that it was in my mailbox.

If you don't know her, you need to.  She's written three genius memoirs of her own, "The Liar's Club," "Cherry," and "Lit," all chronicaling her fucked up, unbelievably off-the-charts life.  Her newest book is about not only the inner workings of memoir as literature but the power behind this relatively new genre.

It's only been in the last 20 years that concepts like reality television, over sharing, blogging, social media and 24/7 access have been household terms.  As a culture, we've shifted the ways that we expect to know people....whether after information saturation, we want to or not.

And since the advent of my own blogging, three years ago, I've experienced a healthy dose of people criticizing me for airing my dirty laundry, giving away pieces of mine and my family's privacy and creating a landscape that will make my re-entry into the legit workforce wonky when my future employers Google "Kelly's Hot Mess" and my blog emerges.

And I suppose there's some truth to the concerns that reside in those remarks.  But for the most part, I say, poppycock.

Anything that has ever really been worth my time or gripped my heart has come from reading or connecting with the rawness of another.  And likewise, when I share ugly, cruel, painful, beautiful, scary windows into my own soul, I am almost always greeted with gratitude.

And so it is that as I'm on this journey of writing, I find that Memoir speaks now, and always has to every fiber of my being.  The trickiest parts are finding a way to write about those whom you love or have loved, who are alive or gone, in a way that maintains some level of respect and privacy.  And of course, the legitimacy of one's own memory.  How clear is my memory?  How do I remember something versus the cast of characters that were also in the kitchen or the bar or the bedroom?  The good news, according to Mary Karr is that the memoirist is not a reporter seeking objective accuracy of events...rather, she's giving you the window into her head and heart as she lives her life.

As I've been writing, these two quotes continue to permeate me:

"The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then, stop."
Mark Twain

"Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he cannot distinguish the truth within him or around him, and so loses respect for himself. And having no respect, he ceases to love."
Fyodor Dostoevsky

On the journey to wrangle fear while seeking curiosity, I'm eager to see what it means to try this kind of writing on...although, if I'm honest with myself, it's really the only writing I've ever done...all in the name of sharing bits of me, while connecting with you, for the good of the story.

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