The word memoir was born with a stigma comparable to the cloud that surrounds Pig-Pen in the classic Snoopy cartoons. While everyone has a story they think is worthy of the page, just as many people have an opinion about who deserves that stage. Many people say stop writing memoirs, your life is not nearly as interesting as you may think- the cloud is an ongoing debate.
After writing my own, I realized it was much less about the way the story is perceived and how many people read it, but more it is a personal exploration, a learning of my life through a narrative. Gore Vidal said it quite eloquently: “It is more about what can be gleaned from a section of one’s life than about the outcome of the life as a whole.” And I have realized that this is the issue with memoir’s stigma. The general public perceives it as an almost narcissistic cry for attention, when in reality, most of the time, the act of writing a memoir borders on a form of self-preservation. Our lives are made up of an endless series of cycles and steps and repetition- we mimic the weather and the natural world in this way. And I have noticed that acknowledgement, in all forms, is a repetitive, pivotal step in these cycles. The act of writing a memoir is simply a formal acknowledgement of our past. We acknowledge the moments that changed us and how we got to where we are- we acknowledge our past, our loves, our lessons, our heart breaks, our place- we acknowledge our lives.
Many have commented on the almost philosophical tone that sections of my writing carry, and I have realized that those passages came from a place of need. I write what I am constantly reminding myself to live into. I do not believe that there is a right or wrong when it comes to this genre- trying to decipher the two would be fruitless- instead I appreciate when the world of memoir has been traveled by an author willing to look it in the eye and preserve themselves through writing.
Many memoirs come from middle-aged writers – people who have finally come to terms with the young version of themselves, taken responsibility, forgiven, acknowledged. And after giving it some thought, I believe it would be of great value for memoir writing to be taught in high school classrooms. At a time when kids are acting out, experimenting, finding their footing- teach children to write their lives down, learn about themselves and be aware of who they are. See what happens finding some resolve before hitting age 20.
Graham Greene once said, “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”
I think it would serve us as people, serve the next generation, to clear memoir’s stigma, open that door through writing our memory- make peace and make room for our potential.