WONDERFUL! LET’S DO IT! WRITE A MEMOIR!

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THE GENRE

I enjoy a good memoir as a brief respite from psychological thrillers and horror books and have always gone for the human-interest element. What can I say? People and things fascinate me. The idea of writing a memoir, however, hadn’t occurred to me until recently. It seems somehow relevant now in these days of the pandemic, a time when people are still fighting for their rights and their lives.

I’ve oven heard people say, “Certain things need to be kept private.”

Hey, we’re on Facebook and Twitter. The Internet spies. They know what kind of shoes I like. You get messages like, “Don’t you want to give this another look? Come on; we know you don’t have any willpower. Go on. Get it.”

Everything I research for my writing shows up in ads. My character gets injured, and they show me compression wraps.

So, we are living in an age of transparency and accessibility. As an introvert, I never liked that, but I get over it when I’m writing. 

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WHY I WANT TO DO IT

Understanding is critical in the world we live in today. Oh, I know, some people think there’s way too much empathy in the world and that we need to go back to being vicious and cruel. Maybe even with a bit of medieval torture thrown in for good measure. As for me, I like the fact that time has taught us more about humanity. It’s part of evolving as a species. 

The aim of sharing is not to gain sympathy but maybe help shed some light on how certain things develop and how we overcome those challenges even when the odds are against us.

One thing I’ve heard and can relate to as a poet and a writer is, Don’t waste your pain. Life is beautiful and tragic, happy, sad, and everything in between, and, as a poet, I’m here for all of it. The pain is often long gone by the time we relay things in poetry and books, but through the pain we once felt, there’s a collective empathy we feel for people trying to navigate whatever we’ve already sorted out.

Speaking of that, I learn from everyone. If someone doesn’t want to talk about a subject or hear about it, that’s okay. Others may be looking for answers to the questions we once had, wanting to survive and thrive as we managed to do and then become better and stronger.

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WHAT I DON’T WANT TO DO

Some of the memoirs I’ve read have shown me what I don’t want to do. Here’s my shortlist.

  1. A personal grudge memoir – If the book is full of swipes at others for revenge, no thanks! As someone who has been on the receiving end of character assassination attempts, I don’t want to do that to anyone. I think it would hurt my soul more than it would hurt them. Write from your heart.
  2. Get into other people’s stories – Other people’s stories are theirs to tell, not mine. For the most part, I want to make every effort to respect their privacy. I won’t reveal real names (except for mine, but there are still those who would be easily identifiable, so unless I’ve found it necessary to get their permission for one thing or another, their secrets are safe with me.
  3. Name dropping – I’ve lived in New York all my life. When you live in New York, you see famous people. You meet famous people. None of them had anything to do with anything relevant in my life.
  4. List sexual conquests in graphic detail– Just no. Recently, I read a memoir where the author constantly got into what physical characteristics he liked and didn’t like in a woman. What body parts were his favorite, all the intimate details of his sexual prowess. It made me wonder, why am I reading this? What is the focus? Yeah, no. 

I’ll ask my alpha and beta readers to check me on all of that.

And, don’t get me wrong, there are people who read memoirs for all of the above, and they love it, so I’m not knocking it. If that’s your thing, go for it, no judgment here.

WHAT I DO WANT TO DO

Memoirs have a focus, yes, and it’s not just to present your life story like you would in an autobiography. Mine is a story about addiction and recovery (from many things). I am one of the fortunate ones who lived to tell how it went for me—going from victim to survivor and beyond to what we call “surthriver.” That fits because we’re learning to do so much more than merely survive. It would focus on an all-consuming fight for sanity, peace, and recovery. I want to make readers feel like they are right there with me for all of it. But, fair warning, being right there with me is bound to get pretty scary.

And let me tell you, when people say they have no regrets, I’m sure I misunderstand what they mean by that or, perhaps, take it too literally. I can’t imagine not having regrets. Most of us do cause pain, even if we don’t want to, and the one thing I regret more than anything is the people I’ve hurt in my oblivion and ignorance.

Recovery, for me, has also been an ongoing journey toward authenticity, removing the veils layer by layer, discarding the masks. I was told, in recovery, we are only as sick as our secrets. Of course, we are allowed to have secrets. But if your hidden truth has you living a double life or creates a barrier between you and the world, and you tend to compartmentalize aspects of your life as part of the deception, it can make you sick. It can limit your healing. It can impede your goal of authenticity.

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Oh, I’ve revealed my secrets to certain people and groups of people, but some of the struggles weren’t public ones, so, in this case, I will tell the whole story of my recovery. Unfiltered, I hope to include the humor and joy among the tragic madness.

My favorite memoirs have been well-written and inspiring with a powerful message. They are my inspiration. It makes me happy, too, when an author is aware of their patterns and vulnerabilities and seeks answers. That’s how we evolve as humans. The constant transition brings wisdom and strength. Raw honesty combined with accountability helps everyone, especially those of us who have gotten caught in a cycle of self-loathing and self-sabotage at some point in life. There is a need for truth and spiritual courage, as well as a need to remain teachable.

And what is the truth? For me, the truth is what makes sense to you after all your exploration and quest for authenticity. I say it all the time, no group, no matter who, what, or where is perfect. Some have seen the light, and others have yet to see it. Let’s hope they keep looking.

WHY DO YOU WRITE? ARE YOU STRANGE LIKE ME?

As someone in quarantine who thrives on isolation, I had to reflect on that recently, and I was inspired to divulge what I concluded, partly to see if anyone could relate.

For the longest time in my life, I believed writing was my destiny or my calling, and that there was never any choice about it. It made sense because I started doing it when I was eight years old and kept on no matter who or what happened in life. It was automatic and the equivalent of breathing (almost 🤣). Romantic relationships were usually complicated since I gave so much to writing and didn’t want to make that same type of investment in potential partners.

My marriage was different because I had a child to raise, and my maternal instinct took over, allowing me to devote myself to my husband and my son. That became a permanent bond. With others, it was most likely I’d eventually back away. Real friends were the only exception to that, and even with my nearest and dearest, I can shut down in the moments I need to and remain in my little bubble until one or the other calls upon me. (This COVID lockdown has me in shutdown mode more than usual.)

So, what I realized is, there is a high probability that I started writing for one simple reason. It allowed me to escape to a world far removed from reality. And that was where I wanted to be. It was never that I didn’t care—more like I cared too much, and I knew it, and it hurt.

As a child, like so many children, I was blown away by The Wizard of Oz. I grew to love role-playing and parallel universe fiction. When role-playing games became on online obsession, combining these two elements, I was among the obsessed. What more could I ask for than the opportunity to vanish into a fake world of my own choosing and explore it fearlessly without ever having to face any consequences?

It’s a weird thing to explain because, from the moment I could fully experience it, the real world has thoroughly fascinated me. I immensely enjoy being out there whenever I am. But, yes, in the general sense, I prefer fantasy to reality. I always have, and I know I’m not alone in that. It’s not a sad thing, not to me. You can be happy and sad, laughing or crying, talking up a storm or perfectly still, and it’s all good. I love and embrace it all, but when I can’t deal at that particular moment, I don’t. I thought it was the poet in me who felt that way, but maybe it’s just me.

I’m not sure if any of it is normal, but becoming aware of it did make me feel selfish. At the very least, it made me realize I have been selfish at times. (Ironically, I had to get in touch with reality enough to understand how deeply flawed I am, and to begin working on it.) 😉 That work began years ago and continues to this day.

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Still, I had to ask myself this question. If what I had wanted all along was to escape reality, why did I base some of my work on things I’d witnessed or experienced?

Well, for one thing, I compartmentalized my feelings and traumas. The people on the page were not real because I’d turned reality into fiction. I was playing God, and, most importantly, I was in control. I needed to be in control. (The focus of my work, by the way, has now shifted to 90% fiction.)

The good news here is, everything is all about learning and growing. It never stops, and because of that, I’ve become increasingly grateful and so incredibly appreciative of the people in my life.

It’s much easier to be “present in the moment” when you know to cherish it! I find that these days, I genuinely care without needing anything in return. So, I’m not all bad. 😆

I suppose the need for self-protection will override progress when necessary, mostly out of habit, but in this life, if you’re committed to improvement, you will achieve it!

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