Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why Do We Write Memoirs?

The perfect wall art for the memoir writer. And who are the memoir writers? Anyone who writes family stories could be considered as a part of this group. I like the phrase in this quote that says to taste life twice. When we write memoir stories, or family stories, that's exactly what we do. But why?

Those memories that stay with us as we move through the adult stages of life remain because, in some way, the experience or the person impressed us greatly. That impression could be filled with the joy of the moment you're remembering or still give you the heebie jeebies because that moment was so terrible. Whichever it may be, these long ago happenings leave a visible mark upon us and it's beneficial to revisit the experience.

We savor those good memories and are happy to taste them twice but what about the sad, or even tragic, ones? Why do we want to relive them? I think that it helps us to understand the event, and the people involved, better when we can look at it from a completely different age. Our own further life experiences help us see whatever happened in a new light. Maybe reliving a difficult time is opening the door to forgiveness. If forgiveness is not possible, then maybe understanding can help soften the sharp edges of that particular memory. I doubt there is one of us that has nothing but happy memories. If so, then it's likely he/she blocked out the ones that hurt because they aren't ready to think about them yet.

I once went to a movie expecting only to be entertained, and I was until the final scenes which were so emotional, so tragic that it triggered something long buried in my memory bank. I sat in the dark theater with tears streaming but not from what I observed on the big screen. My anguish stemmed from a love/hate relationship with a close family member. I drove home from the theater and grabbed a pad of paper and a pen, then poured out my feelings about this person in a free verse poem. More tears but also a peacefulness that I can only attribute to bringing these memories to the surface, writing about them and recognizing that they were a part of what makes me who I am. Forgiveness was not there. Not then but it did come at a much, much later time.

Besides leaving a history for your family now and those in future generations, another reason to write memoir is to allow readers a glimpse into your life, to let them compare their own lives to yours, to help them see that maybe their experiences are similar. We humans are a curious lot and we like to learn about the lives of others, espeically famous people. It's why there are so many biographies (and autobiographies) written as well as memoirs. It's also a delight to history buffs who are able to learn about a different era.

Even writers of fiction, poetry, essays, educational articles and children's stories can also write memoir pieces. A memoir does not have to be booklength. Many anthologies, like Chicken Soup, publish many a memoir story of 1200 words or less. My own annual state writers club contest has a category for Memoir of 2000 words or less. Don't feel overwhelmed at the thought of writing an entire book. Take it one story at a time and one day, you'll have enough material for an actual book.

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