by Jerry Waxler
To join the Memoir Revolution, you simply need to start writing anecdotes and put them in chronological sequence. However, many would-be writers put that job at the bottom of their to-do list, saying they’ll get to it someday, or not at all. The problem with memoir writing is that there are so many good reasons not to do it. It takes time, of course. You might claim your life isn’t interesting, or that you don’t know how to write a story. And the objection that often seems to bury the project forever is, “Some things in my past are better left unsaid.” However, if you keep coming back to memoirs because your past just won’t go away, consider balancing your list of objections with some of the benefits of joining the Memoir Revolution.
The Memoir Revolution invites us to band together for mutual support.
Without a memoir, we’re alone with our memories and expect to stay that way forever. The Memoir Revolution offers a way out of that isolation. When we connect with others who want to turn life into story we begin to swap anecdotes. We realize the past is both tellable and interesting. We work together, learn from teachers and offer each other support. Gradually, we begin to shape our memories into a sharable form.
Literary stories have always explored the psychology of their main characters. Memoirs apply this literary lens to the forces that shape real characters.
In the twentieth century, we assumed only licensed professionals could understand the workings of the mind. And yet, we learn so much about human nature from authors like Shakespeare and Dostoevsky who revealed the complexities of human experience in ferocious detail. The Memoir Revolution taps into this same profound system, giving us a window into human nature through the lens of story.
Of course, we don’t start out with the ability to create great literary works. On the contrary, we may not even know how to write a simple work of fiction. However, when we try to shape our memories into a readable form, we begin to notice the psychological forces that hold stories together. “Developmental psychology” turns into the drama of Coming of Age. “Family dynamics” are revealed in the memoirs we read and the one we write. Grief, trauma and all the other forces that shape us are revealed in our narratives.
The Internet gives us the ability to find our own niche, and meet other people who are doing the same, providing a vast expansion of our ability to know each other through our stories.
Until the end of the twentieth century, the economics of book sales meant that for a memoir to be published, the author had to be famous. The internet has changed that. Now, anyone can find their own niche. In this new world, we learn the stories not just of celebrities but of each other. Instead of a few hundred charmed lives, known by millions, we are sharing a million lives within our niches, tribes, and circles.
The Memoir Revolution breaks taboos, by converting regrets, and failures into stories. Rather than allowing shame to isolate us, we search for the courage and humanity that unites us.
When we peer into the past, we try to avoid memories that make us feel smaller, less attractive, or coarser. Until now, those disappointing aspects of ourselves sentenced us to a lifetime of selective silence. For example, when successful broadcast journalist Jeannette Walls saw her mother searching for food in a dumpster, she assumed she would have to hide this relationship forever, building a wall around an important aspect of herself.
By writing, we gradually redefine our relationship to our memories, learning that trying to separate good from bad simply doesn’t work. Many of the best moments emerge because of our desire to overcome the bad. We continue to grow, to seek ways to give back, and find our own higher moral ground. As our story takes shape, we discover that by hiding shame, we have been stifling the very things that make us energetic, unique individuals. When Jeannette Walls grew weary of her silence about her childhood, she wrote Glass Castle which turned the event into a shared social experience. The book exposed millions of readers to the possibility that hidden parts of themselves could reveal courage and character.
Life makes more sense in story than in memory.
Memory consists of a disordered collection of bits and pieces tangled with emotions. Before the Memoir Revolution, we took this system for granted, living with complex memories and no clear sense of continuity. The consensus was, “No one else had reconstructed the story of their past. Why should I?”
Once we start writing anecdotes and looking for their narrative arc, we discover the shape of those events. Stories turn out to be an ideal system for organizing those memories, creating a more solid, confident awareness about the person who lived them.
Learning to construct a Story is a valuable, wonderful, expansive life skill.
When I was younger, I assumed that only a tiny set of uniquely talented artists could write stories. This prejudice blocked me from seeing the world through my own stories, and forced me to see it only through the stories of others. When I decided to write a memoir, I needed to overcome this limitation. I attended classes, read books, and joined critique groups. At every step, I increased my insights into the workings of Story. I was making the transition from someone who could only read stories to someone who could also create them.
A groundswell of social awareness is shifting our collective attitude about the past, from the regret of lost stories to the value of found ones.
When we glance into the marshland of memory, we feel saddened by a past that is gone forever. To write a memoir, we set aside wistful nostalgia and approach our past with the attitude of curiosity and creativity. Page by page, we build paths that allow us to come and go more freely. Gradually we turn byways, mistakes, courage and survival into tales that entertain and educate others. By making our own past more accessible, we help others learn more about their possible future.
We are building mutual understanding
In the allegory of the Tower of Babel, when humans became too greedy for power, God hurled them into a period of divisiveness, unable to understand each other’s lives. The Memoir Revolution lets us see beyond these differences, and appreciate each other through the common language of stories.
For brief descriptions and links to all the posts on Memory Writers Network, click here.
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