First Published at Women Writers, Women Books
All art is expression.
All expression is a way of putting it “out there.”
As soon as we put it out there it’s no longer inside us, or merely inside us. It has been expressed outwardly. So we can now hear it, feel it, see it, touch it – outside of us. And so we get to know ourselves better in the world. And so we become more knowing.
This is especially true of memoir.
Memoir is the story of us. It is about who we are, who we think we are, who we think we might have been, and who we were.
We write our stories with the hope they will be read and that readers will have a response, that they will be moved in some way.
But whether or not they respond in ways we expect or desire, whether or not our books fly off the shelves, something utterly amazing has occurred within us along the way of transforming our memory into prose: we have become conscious of who we actually are.
We live in a world of doing. A world that constantly changes with the changes measured in degrees and percentages and various graphs and scales.
Experiences are felt or not felt, and slip by, replaced by the next experience. Time might seem to be hurtling by. Those of us who write, slow it down. We slow down time. Writers of memoir slow it down further, because of this going back and reliving events from the past. We have to relive them in order for these events to feel real again. For them to come alive to the reader—as alive and real as they were for us at the time.
It wasn’t until I was well into the process of writing down my life that I became aware that there was a force working through me. I felt this force as an energy, as a spirit of soul consciousness. This was because of the depths I traversed. Not all memoirists wish to turn their lives inside out to find hidden meanings, or send plumb lines down to the depths of their subconscious. Nor is it required. Yet if we do choose this kind of delving, the benefits are immeasurable. For we are doing nothing less than putting our lives in order—our psyches, really.
In the myth of Psyche and Eros, Psyche’s first task was to make order out of the pile of seeds and sort them all out. Sorting out our experience is soul work. It means taking the time to step out of the hurly-burly and look back at where we have been. I can’t think of a better way to know the way forward than to step back and look at where I have been. The writing creates a map of sorts. Where was I and when was I there? Why was I there?
The way forward then is in the looking back, the stepping back.The reader may find my story interesting or not. For me it is fascinating. For I have unearthed stories that I may have hidden from myself until now. And aside from sorting out “what happened when,” I may have found the underlying reasoning. I may have made connections, connecting this feeling to that event.
Truth is always interesting. We first write for ourselves, and then we write for others to read, and with each revision the story becomes richer and more vibrant and more real. And we become more real as we become more aware of who we truly are inside.
Yet it is in the sharing of our stories that we really take off. In making them public, in reading them aloud, we are honoring our experience. We are also empowering others to take that leap of faith into their own lives. We don’t know what we might touch off in another, what trigger or spark we might ignite. And it may only be on a subconscious level. But truth is catching. When we can open up, another sees that it is possible. And so we all move forward. We all grow.
Who knows, but that by unearthing the first stone, what the next stone might uncover.
What’s your experience in working with memoir?