When I first began to explore the memoir boom, looking here and there at hooks and chapters, I was amazed. Suddenly so many writers are working at getting at the truth of things, and bringing them to the page.
Some people say it all started with McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. Maybe. In any event in the past weeks I’ve read into books that deal with having shot one’s brother in a hunting accident, watching one’s father drown, trying to find out why one’s uncle committed suicide. The great theme of contemporary memoir appear to be loss and healing.
The National Book Critics Circle has further validated the trend with its recent awards to Greywolf and other literary publishers.
In my piece Notes on a Yellow Rose , I took the plunge and set down, as if I were reporting, as close to the heart and heat of the facts as possible, several incidents revealing of my relationship with my mother. This is not the first thing I want to write about these days; it is the very last. However, I have confronted other hard subjects on this blog, and I am feeling ever more courageous.
Obviously that relationship can be and perhaps should be its own book.
What happened to me after I posted it is of interest to me. I got worried. I felt disloyal to a ghost. I worried about its impact on my brother, my only living next of kin, who is going through a rough time and about to embark on the personal archeology that will hopefully lead to epiphanies and healing.
But for years I have carried imagery around being in that body cast when I was young with me. I have not wanted to face what that did and what it cost me, much less write the story– but, it is a human story, that illuminates something: why a child would come into her early years and adult life so very fearful and uncertain about herself, feel fragile and weak, have such a rough time valuing herself, do things that devalue herself and desperately try to escape her own pain.
As I write it feels to me that I must hinge together her story, my story, bit by bit, day by day, and piece by piece. Emerging from all of it is a brave woman standing up and saying to the world: “I am not my mother. I am far more than the measure of my weaknesses. I thought I was weak, nothing, fated to tread water forever but not so. I come before you having written things that tell me this all hasn’t killed me and that enrich others’ lives…I am not the screwed up mess I’ve presented myself as to you; I permit you to straight-jacket me no more.”
Yet, it won’t be pretty, it will stir things up for the reader, make people afraid of their own darkness and secrets.
In a segment I have not posted, I write about the anger with which I began to avenge her cruelty when I was a teenager and could look her in the eye. I get confessional and specific. What I have written is shocking because it confronts the rage that grew in me and is still there, that I am still trying to overcome, the rage that boils over in close relationships when I feel rejected or condemned. That rage has been mystifying and frightening to other people and filled me with shame. However, it is part of the story, and I hope that in owning my own “stuff” I will contribute to the legacy of the permissions of memoir and the imperatives: to write toward healing, to say that healing is possible, because, in fact, if I weren’t healing, I would most certainly not be writing and growing.
The truth-telling trend in memoir gives us permission to speak what we have been afraid to speak, to see what we have been afraid to see. Who wants to go back there? A Writer. A human being stepping into the long hallway of aging, with what she can carry. A caged bird tired of the follies of failing to push open an unlatched door.