Deep into the process of a series of family memoirs, I'm wondering why we want to write such things. Surely, as most "literary" memoirs indicate these days, it's a way to identify personal demons. A process of self-therapy, and if you're lucky, it's not only inexpensive therapy, it might end up shooting a royalty check into your mailbox.
But what's the reason for the memoir's existence, you know, in the context of our society?
During these postmodern times, as we call our era (for lack of a more defining term), we seek spectacle. We want things to be larger than life. And even with the most mundane lives at hand, we can always inflate our troubles (it's always our troubles, it seems, not our successes) to a state of grandiosity.
But how do (we) memoirists make these indulgences seem more than self-flagellation? Mainly, there's a lot of self-consciousness involved in today's form of literary skin-peel. We want you, the reader, to know that we're not drowning in these troubles, we're simply settled into them, as if in a bathtub of warm water. We understand our predicament, we know whom to blame for them (sometimes it's even ourselves). This is the state of my life, we seem to want to say in such memoirs; it's, as the Bruce Hornsby song goes, "just the way it is."
But I keep coming back to the element of writing that postmodern literature seems blase about: story.
Story primarily provides a window into a life's past, but it also informs as it enthralls. This is the big discovery in my efforts at family memoir: the must vivid vignettes of the oral history I've had handed down and am now refining in writing have to do with moments in which my (family) characters' lives display, well, character. This doesn't mean constant examples of derring-do. All too often, my characters fumble with life, but in doing so they learn, they adapt, they grow stronger, perhaps wiser, too.
Character in memoir, then, has a lot to do with how one retains a sense of self - not in the "here I am sitting befuddled in a puddle," manner, but as in "this predicament and how I handle it helps define who I am." Writing down the manner in which family members, for instance, deal with life helps me understand the life I've been swept up into. And, if I've found its doorway into its larger context, it says a little something about who we are at our very core.
Causes Bob Mustin Supports
Native American culture. Education. Creative writing.