It started with a conversation about writing a memoir — particularly, my memoir (or, perhaps, technically, second memoir) and how I’ve hit the brakes a little bit.
“I don’t understand,” my husband said. “I feel like, when I was growing up, the only people who did memoirs were presidents and generals, and it was usually a look back on their lives. Nowadays, it seems like there are all these women writing memoirs about one or two events that had happened to them.”
I had never given too much thought to that before — that we live in a post-Eat-Pray-Love-world, one where the nonfiction section is lined with memoirs written by women about somewhat recent events. I thought of the fervent successes of books like Wild and Love Warrior and the response to my husband’s inquiry came flowing out, as if the answer had been hiding in my subconscious the entire time.
“We’re desperate for stories,” I said. “Women are.”
“Think about all the movies and TV shows and mainstream books that have been around,” I continued. “Think about what women’s roles usually are. We play the manic pixie dream girl, or unattainable hot girl, or the sexy lady whose entire livelihood plays second fiddle to how sexy she is. We play the supporting role while the guy has a coming of age experience, or overcomes his demons, or figures out the nuances of life. It is only recently that the mainstream has even bothered to dive into any type of depth when it comes to a woman’s story. I think the uptick in women’s memoirs is just an indication of that desperate desire.”
Stories are how we make sense of the world. This has been the truth since the dawn of civilization. From tales around the fire to drawings on the cave’s walls. From a blockbuster novel to hearing your friend reveal her darkest secret (and realizing how close it is to yours). We need those stories to fill in the cracks and the holes in our soul, to organize this messy experience, to realize that we’re not alone in what we feel. And we need more than being told we can be the quirky girlfriend to a man’s adventure, or the solemn-but-loving mother, or the supreme sex goddess, or any other two-dimensional female entity.
We need stories that dive into the complicated corners of life and shine light on the things typically kept in the dark.
And memoirs — true, nonfiction accounts — shine the brightest and truest light. This isn’t just a concoction in someone’s mind. Someone lived this and lived to tell the tale. Someone was strong enough to turn around and write it out for others to read.
My first memoir — if you can call it that — is lighthearted. A handful of snarky, David Sedaris-esque essays about my time as a model, released through the book publishing branch of a website I write for. It’s the literary equivalent of a jet-ski: fun and entertaining, skimming the surface at a breakneck pace and then it’s over before you know it.
I’ve been fiddling around with a second memoir, convinced in the most egotistical way that what happened over the last couple years — the good, the bad, the ugly, the fun and the shameful — would make a good story. I’ve made notes and laid things out and even wrote a few scattered chapters.
Writing my story has been my theme for years, long before life blew up and then reassembled. The first essay I ever wrote for that aforementioned website was about quitting the teaching field and the emotional fallout that came with it. And of the hundreds of articles I’ve written since then, over half of them comes back to, in some way, me telling my story.
I’ve written candidly and rawly and in exceptionally public places. There are times when I’ll look at the things I’ve written and where they have been published and feel a stark nakedness. And there are times when I look at those works and think, “Really, all I have to do is gather up these articles, add on a few chapters about things I haven’t had the guts the write publicly about yet, and voíla. Memoir done. Mission accomplished.”
Write from your scars, not from your wounds. It’s a bit of advice I saw on a famous memoirist’s page (because, these days, it feels like all I do is stumble upon advice for writing memoirs). Write when you’re back on dry land, not when you’re being tossed about at sea. That’s the idea of memoirs, especially in their newest evolution: you live through it, you heal, and you turn around to tell people your tale.
Write from your scars, not from your wounds. I definitely don’t tend to follow that rule. I think about what I wrote and published after my father died. I wrote as I was bleeding out, hoping the words would serve as a bandage to something that cut way too deep for me to handle all at once.
I wrote in real time when I lost my cherished brother-in-law to cancer, when I nearly lost my beloved little brother to a motorcycle accident. I wrote in real time when the woman who was the mother to my older siblings and in essence my step-mother passed. I wrote from states of shock and numbness and despair and hopelessness and hysteria and good-old-fashioned-run-of-the-mill sadness.
I wrote from my wounds, and found such overwhelming solace in finding out how many other people were nursing the same injuries as me. I wrote from my wounds and found that telling my story provided the same effect as reading other’s stories. It served as a reminder that these experiences are valid and universal and shared and real.
But I am learning the longer pieces can’t be written in the middle of the injury. A story arc cannot be done while you’re still bleeding out. You run a high risk of infection if you confuse your scars with your wounds. You can’t turn around to tell others about the path when you’re still tripping over the trail’s roots and rocks.
As I started writing out actual chapters, I learned with a frustrating disheartening that things I had hoped were scars by now are still very much wounds, and trying to write about them in this format was risking tearing up what has already starting to heal.
A bit like life: be careful not to act as if the healing process is complete, lest you go right back to where you started.
So I put it on pause. I remind myself of all the other things I need to do. I still have a few more months left of my current yoga teacher training. I have two manuscripts that need editing. I have a third manuscript that might be entering its newest phase in my attempts to get it published. My class schedule is joyously expanding, but also cutting into time once set aside for writing.
But I know those are all superficial reasons. I’ve learned countless times over that I will always make time for the things I truly want to do. The real reason is that I’m still dealing with the raw underbelly instead of scar tissue. That I can’t fully forgive yet, and I can’t write with that type of anger still in my heart.
So, just like so many other things, I’m giving it time. I let the moments of inspiration come on their own accord. I write notes when the moment so calls for it, I indulge when the waters feel safe, but I go no further than that.
For now, at least.
Because, be it through a cosmic go ahead or a stumbling realization that, amidst the notes and the articles and the moments of inspiration, I had actually already wrote my memoir and healed along the way, this is a project that will see itself to completion.
Because, at the end of the day, I want this memoir out. I want to be one more story that is shared, one more tale of a woman’s triumph over the demons and nuances of life. One more story that was kept too long under covers.