The Vulnerability of Memoir
When you choose to write memoir you can’t be afraid to look closely at yourself in the mirror. And that’s not always pleasant. When I first began writing my anthology essay, “The Rainiest Season”, I had to come to terms with some difficult facts about myself. The essay, which describes the aftermath of my discovery that my husband has been having an affair with our housemaid in the Philippines, forced me to revisit that horrendous time in my life. And it wasn’t much easier to write about it ten years after the fact than it was to live through the experience in the first place.
Much of my first draft was deleted because I realized it wasn’t honest enough. To get that story right, I had to cut through to the core of myself. I had to peel away the persona that I present to the world and expose myself to a harsh and unforgiving light. And I don’t like doing that — which is exactly why I hadn’t noticed he was having the affair in the first place.
Another thing about memoir is that strangers will read your story and judge it. Which means they’ll be judging YOU. Because unlike fiction, where characters are born in your imagination, in memoir the “hero” is usually YOURSELF. And we are not always the heroes we wish we could be.
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Honesty. Truth. It changes over time as one comes to know and understand more about one’s self. I have long since accepted the unpleasant facts of my life but to air them publicly would take more courage than I possess. Something to do with self-preservation and being able to retain a modicum of belief in my own dignity. I salute your courage.
Thank you, Phyllis! I agree that honesty changes over time, and our perspective definitely changes with age. Writing my story was very cleansing — it was a good thing to do. The effect of airing it publicly remains to be seen. The main thing is that we are ALL flawed — it’s what makes us interesting. Who wants to hang out with a Barbie doll? I do my best not to live in fear. If people like me, they like me. If they don’t, there’s nothing I can do about it, and I accept that.
The only thing worse than being talked about…
is not being talked about.
Hi Dan, I love that quote!