The Irony of Memoir.

EdgarAllendeDo you read much memoir?

I’ve been reading almost nothing but memoir these last two years. It started with wanting to know what similar books were out there. It seems there is tiny sub-genre of moving to the country memoir. Most of them were women who wore pumps in the barn and whined that there was no Starbucks close. They were a modern day Green Acres sort of plot. Just not amusing to my ears. I grew up on a failing farm; maybe I’m a bad sport.

As I went on to other memoir, I was blown away. What a wide and varied genre. The truth is that I love to read about human experience. Real life has a way of twisting back on itself in intricate and unexpected ways that is more unbelievable than fiction. If that’s possible.

But I admit, it’s kind of arrogant to think your life is so extraordinary that people would want to read about it. They warn you right off the bat that if you are writing a family history, give it to your family and don’t bother publishers. There are other reasons to skip memoir: I’m not famous, I don’t travel much, and I hate to cook. Those are the big memoir categories but they don’t fit me any better than Green Acres.

In my case, I had a story that I needed to tell. I hate the way that sounds but it was just that plain. There was a story telling itself in my head and it wouldn’t shut up.

When I was young I thought I was the only person to ever feel my particular feelings; that mine were somehow wildly different, that I deserved some special dispensation because of my experiences. I marched around thinking no one could understand how challenging my life was. I was silly, in other words. Heartfelt but silly.

By the time I hit thirty, I had an awakening. And it was simple; we are all the same person. Not identical; I still hate cooking. But the same in that the human condition rings true underneath the surface. So reading about driving a sled dog team (Winterdance) ends up having the same thing in common with starting life over, with a karaoke sound track (Turn Around Bright Eyes) or a poet trying to make sense of tragedy through the length of time a dog lives (Dog Years).

This is where I have to thank my blog readers. Some writers hate the idea of blogging; that it somehow flattens their creativity or maybe they think giving their words away for free was a bad thing. For me it’s always been inspiring. The weekly comments on my blog really fueled my confidence and I don’t know that I could have written my book without those affirmations. I’m grateful for every comment. No kidding.

My favorite comments are the ones when the reader says that I stated what she was thinking or feeling, or that I have described a situation in some way that made sense to her emotionally.

Those comments aren’t my favorite because I’m arrogant, but rather because I’m common. The irony of memoir is not that some authors are just so elite and above us because they hiked the Pacific Trail (Wild) but that they are like us because we will all know the loss of a parent. What I love about reading memoir is knowing that we all share a common spark. We just use that spark to light things differently.

*Warning: Memoir means real life happens.* This memoir of mine is not a pastel Disney version of my blog. It’s edgy and deals with some uncomfortable situations. But on the high side, there are horses in it.

This week in self-publishing: I held The Cover Challenge. Just kill me. My book designer sent six cover ideas, from photos I sent, my synopsis, and some samples I liked. They were all lovely covers and I decided to get opinions from a few of my close circle. And it’s like I said, we all light things differently. The range of opinion was wide and the best part of the experience was that I got to disappoint people before the book is even out! It was good to cross that inevitable line early. What did I expect? Of course, we would all see them through the eyes of our own thoughts.

In the end, I picked the cover that had the parts most important to me. We are finishing up the wording on the back of the book and I’ll show it to you as soon as it’s done.

In last week’s post (here), I whined pathetically about the introvert drama of having a photo taken and much to my joy, the comments told me one more time, how wildly, happily common I am. You told me that strange old women were holding your horse’s lead rope in photos… and one more time, you all made this process lighter and easier for me. (And thanks to photographer Sheri Kerley for her patience and good work.)

Did I get it right? Is this how we label ourselves?

Stark Naked Introvert
Stark Naked Introvert
Fully Clothed Introvert.
Fully Clothed Introvert.

7 thoughts on “The Irony of Memoir.

  1. nuri

    Ha, that’s just what I thought: A beautiful human being, inside AND out. Whose lovely smile does seem more relaxed when she is “fully clothed” – but maybe this is my projection. (I’ve been known to stop breathing while being photographed, especially “stark naked”.) Anyway, I think you did a fine job being brave; it’ll be very nice to have this portrait in your book – which I am very much looking forward to. (P.S. This comment contains zero flattery.)

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    1. nuri

      PPS The “fully clothed” picture is so special, worth a thousand words about your relationship with your horses. I hope it will be in the book also.

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  2. lsterling56

    I find that memoirs, particularly written by women, are more interesting to me as I have gotten older. Perhaps it is the idea of shared feelings and experiences that appeals to me, proof that those wild thoughts rattling around my head are really not so unusual after all. I agree that your smile seems a bit more relaxed in your fully clothed photo – because you are, after all, not stark naked! – but what I see in both shots is a lovely lady in some cool shades. I’m so happy that the wait to read your memoir is nearly over.

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    1. Thanks for the compliment, and I agree, maybe age has something to do with it… it takes a while to find compassion, for others and eventually ourselves. Great comment.

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  3. Your fully clothed introvert portrait is A) fabulous as an image and B) even better as a pun on the meaning of a full family. Glad to hear your book is coming along—looking forward to seeing it. How goes the editing process? Or are you past that by now?

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    1. Thanks, Jann. Coming from you, that means alot. Actually, editing is finished, all three of them and so it the cover. The finish line is in sight. Probably sometime in July. WooHoo!!! I was going to get in touch with you about then…

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      1. Cool, Anna! I saw that your cover options were reviewed by the chosen—when I worked as an art director in another lifetime, we called that Design By Committee. Let us see a sneak peak?

        Looking forward to hearing from you in July. Spirit is now a celebrity horse in my book. 😀

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