September 2018 Writing a Memoir
There are many noble reasons for writing a memoir about an aspect of one’s life—sharing family history for future generations, clarifying familial issues for present relatives, or honoring a lost family member. But the upmost purpose a memoir serves for many of us is to “rip a bandage off a festering wound.” A dear friend gave me that expression, and it certainly fits what I have done for the anthology entitled Compassionate Journey: Honoring Our Mothers’ Stories. This friend would know as she has a similar festering wound herself. I hope reading my essay in the anthology somehow helps her.
The memoir process starts simply for most of us, particularly those who enjoy writing. A death or moving experience encourages us to start jotting down our thoughts about it. It feels good. A few workshops and writing groups later, a memoir starts to take shape. For me, personally, a workshop where the leader asked us to bring a picture of our mother and then prompted us to write about rather provocative subjects really started me down the memoir path. I became completely hooked after gathering with several other women writers who wanted to write poignant essays about their mothers. I spent more than four years meeting regularly with a gathering of specific women. Our project changed over time. It gained honesty and depth. As writers, we all dug deeper and deeper into family history. I sent away for psychiatric hospital records concerning my mother’s stay there over a half century ago. Some writers in the group sought therapy. Others interviewed family members. We all had different ways of pulling forth memories, both good and bad.
Now that the anthology I was involved with is published, I am surprised at my own reaction. Having daydreamed forever of holding a book I was part of in my hands, the anxiety I have felt about sharing it with the world has puzzled me. At first, I felt like a stripper about to disrobe as the book launch date approached. Books have been selling online and from the box in my dining room to friends close by, and I have watched nervously wondering what people’s reactions would be to my essay in the anthology. The reviews are mixed. While many rave about the honesty and courage I have shown in my writing, one or two have wondered how I survived, with one friend spending time at a dinner out gazing at me with confused pity. Some of this has made me feel self-conscious and question why I ever did it in the first place. I pore over the praise blurbs we have received from published, noteworthy authors in the Maine writing community and wonder if my essay stands up to the glorious reviews given by them. Is this all part of the creative process?
Then a friend shared with me that her mother had mental health issues, and she really identified with my essay. Others did, too. The reason for writing this raw story is reinforced for me, and I am glad I wrote it. I even participated in a local television interview and then agonized over how it would be received. The rollercoaster keeps going, but I am staying on it for the ride.