Suddenly everyone is writing memoir, present company included. But this raises some questions for me:
Why? Why has this become such a popular genre. It used to be that you had to live a full life to have anything to say about it all.
Especially, your culture and era had elevated you to “interesting person” status: a figure figuring in the scheme of things.
This seems to be changing. Suddenly there is a panoply of people, principally women writers, writing “memoir”. Calling themselves “memoirists.” O.K. Now we have a canon of memoir and the mss keep on coming: ask any editor indie or not about the slush pile.
Writing memoir has been popularized in large measure, within literary communities and creative writing programs. Being around other writers triggers writers to write, but the danger is just as that peril existing in a flock of birds: if one goose heads slightly to the east, could the rest get hung up on telephone wire? Over time, do not the members of a flock begin to resemble each other, evolving into maddening similitude?
In other words, how do you protect your voice, your perspective, the history of your time as you have lived it? This goes, of course to the subject of community again. Some bloggers are going so far as to call M.F.A. programs “mills”, and I have to agree.
You can grow as a writer and fortify your technical foundation getting an M.F.A. If you want to be a teaching writer, you pretty much have to get it these days and even then, outshine everyone else with, at least, the brilliance of your oeuvre.
But the heavy guns in such programs can influence a malleable, growing writer to the detriment of developing his or her own voice. And, as happened to me, the mentors you worship can have feet of clay.
Regarding writing one’s memoirs, it seems wise to consider what the point of one’s telling of a life story is. It seems doubly wise to consider that you believe: a. that your personal history is part of a cultural and historical narrative b. that you are prepared to strive to bring that larger tapestry to life and c. that you are as gifted in the use of language as Mozart is with an “allegro ma non troppo”…
Possibly, writing memoir is crying in the cheap seats. It’s the easy way to tell a story; no need for character development; drop in the memory of a summer day in your great-aunt’s back yard, evoke it and presto; thou hast written. Thou hast produced. Call it memoir then, and it gets elevated to the status of ART. Even better, sensationalize yourself: embellish away, and write an expose’ with yourself at the center, as Andrew Young just did re John Edwards’ fall from grace.
Now. I’ve been telling people I’m writing a memoir, but I’m having second thoughts. I’m starting to feel like I’m swelling a progress here– see the poem Prufrock for that reference…or Shakespeare/Hamlet.
I think that I’m going to start saying that I am writing a series of personal vignettes. Will that set me apart? Or will it be craft. Elegant, even beautiful writing. Balancing the poignant with the hilarious, the tragic with the hopeful. Personal experience showing forth universal truths and the dilemmas of our humanity. Wow. And I thought that I’ve been suffering with the death of ambition…