Thursday, 14 July 2011

Why I don't write a memoir

Why I don't write a memoir

I don't have the courage. There are periods of my life I don't want to remember, much less linger over. But I admire so much the people who do.

A few years ago I offered a workshop in Memoir Writing, here in the village where I live in the mountains in central California.

I titled it "Everyone has a story to tell ..." and more people signed up for the two six-week sessions than I could accommodate. We held the classes that winter at the yarn store, a cozy and intimate setting.

The class attracted people who wanted to get started, keep going, or to finish a memoir. I defined memoir as a legacy for those you leave behind, a reflection on that once-in-a-lifetime experience---a golden summer, a place, a turning point, a triumph, or a tragedy overcome.

My students, who became friends, were full of stories and life experience and I wanted to help them set these stories down on paper. Most of the people in the classes didn't think of themselves as writers, yet they all were story tellers. The teaching part of the each class focused on some of the elements of story telling: plot, pacing, action, dialogue.

We can learn techniques but we all teach ourselves to write by doing it, don't we? By doing it, and revising it, and revising it yet again, and again, until it's pleasing.

I came to admire these people so much. Their stories were so different, and interesting. They took the class because writing a memoir is a way to figure out who you used to be and how you got to be the way you are.

Some class members had big jobs and big lives they want to document for those family members who follow them. Some wanted to explain themselves by leaving their recollections as a family legacy. Some wanted to memorialize a moment in time, “their” war, a family vacation, an award, their remembrance of being part of a historical event.

Most common was the wish to reminisce over the good and the bad memories and find meaning in the events and people in our lives who have shaped us. One woman said bluntly: “Cheaper than therapy.”

Writing your life story takes emotional honesty and bravery. The candor of the shared writing creates and intimate bond. There were tears and a lot of laughter as well.

I'm not that brave. I hide my life story and how I got from there to here in fiction.