I’ve talked already about how I write in My Creative Process, but why do I write about myself?
This book, a collection of thoughts from “twenty memoirists on why they expose themselves (and others) in the name of literature” jumped out at me for obvious reasons. I mean, what is From Brown Eyes, if nothing but a very current, and up-to-date memoir?
Although I did not purchase it at the time, when I was back in Portland for a weekend in March, I again stubbled upon the book and, this time, took it home with me.
Upon reading each sections by the 20 different memoirists, their words and epiphanies have solidified and supported many of the realizations I have had during the six months I have been writing this blog (how times flies).
Here is why I write about myself:
I Write to Share What I Have Learned:
I knew that when I quit my job, packed up my bags, and moved across California to live with my parents my life was going to be very different. I started this blog as a way to chronicle my journey, pass my time, and learn a thing or two about web design or search engine optimization. What I didn’t realize is that this blog would uncover a deep desire to help others reach the levels of happiness and fulfillment I have hit in the past half year.
I think in her chapter, Anne Lamott put it better than I ever could,
I write memoirs because I have a passionate desire to be of even the tiniest bit of help. I like to write about the process of healing, of developing, of growing up, of becoming who we were born to be instead of who we always agreed to be.
This sentence resonated so much with me because of her final six words, “who we always agreed to be.” When I decided to quit my job and move back in to my childhood home, I had to push aside the guilt and shame I felt for ‘breaking’ my contract with society. I am the girl that had excelled in high school, graduating with 4.5 GPA. I am the girl who landed a coveted internship doing hands-on medical research for Parkinson’s Disease as a freshman in college. I am the girl who graduated from UC Davis in three years. I am the girl who, at 20-years-old, was running teams of 230 employees. I am the girl who was arresting people twice my age and size, and writing testimonies against them to appear in a court of law. And suddenly, I am the girl who quit her job and moved back in with her parents, unsure of what her next step would be.
Starting From Brown Eyes helped me realize that I am finally becoming who I was born to be instead of who I always agreed to be, as Lamott put it. Instead of just toeing the other side of the line, I decided to leap across it, unabashedly yelling, “I’m Tess! See how far I can jump out of the box I had built around me.” Suddenly, I feel free to be everything I dream of.
The hope is those confidences will inspire the reader to unearth some of his own feelings or insights. None of this has to do with spilling your guts…When you write about yourself- actually, when you write about anything- the goal is to offer up just the right ingredients in just the right portions. – Meghan Daum
As Daum says, and I hope that by sharing my journey to discovering my happiest self, I might inspire those around me to do the same. One of my goals when writing is to tell my readers, “This is what I did. And this is what I learned. And this is what worked for me.” But I also hope to convey that my writings chronicle my personal recipe for happiness, so feel free to add your own pinch of salt. Like Meghan Daum says,
In literature, as in life, most advice says more about the giver than the receiver
I Write to Say What I Did Not Before:
That’s one of the possibilities of memoir: to give a gift to somebody…The gift of memoir is getting to say on paper what most families never get to say in conversation. – Anne Lamott
I talk very openly about my experience with my father’s 10-year diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease on my blog (read here). I think part of the reason I opt to write about Parkinson’s Disease says more about my father’s relationship with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) than it does mine. My father is a very factual person, and in some ways, PD is less of a disease and more of a diagnosis. During the time Parkinson’s has been in my life, I have spent more moments discussing the impact of his disease on my life with my friends rather than with my father. The reason for this isn’t because my dad and I aren’t close, but because PD is already such a factor in our everyday life, maybe it isn’t best to spend more time talking about it?
But I have realized that Parkinson’s has shaped my life more than any other event, education, or person ever has. So why not share that, especially with my father? If he, and the rest of my family, has to live with this horrible disease, then he might as well know how much it has positively influenced my perception of life. Writing has become a way to share that with him.
I Write to Connect with People:
When you tell your story, other people start telling theirs. It gives everyone a bigger span of experiences than just the ones they’ve had. When anybody tells a candid story of failure or sorrow, it tends to make the world bigger and safer for everyone. – Sandra Tsing Loh
I am a people person, I have so enjoyed how this blog has paved the way for many amazing people to enter, or re-enter, my life. It has become a source of reconnection with old friends and has allowed new acquaintances to get to know me in a completely novel and intimate way.
The best thing to come out of the memoir was the connection to people who read it and felt an enormous relief to know they weren’t alone. I’ve become very close with lots of people I never would have met. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from someone telling me his or her own story. – David Sheff
However, writing does require a balance. Although I love all of the new people that my blog has introduced me to, it can often feel like a one-sided relationship, where the reader knows more about me than I know about the reader.
But you don’t owe your reader everything, every story of your life, every element of you. You owe your reader only what you want to reveal. – Ayelet Waldman
As someone who strongly desires close personal connections to the people in my life, there have been times when this blog has completely prohibited friendships, mainly because the reader became emotionally invested in me, but did not give me the time or chance to make the same attachment back. Although a little harsh, I think Cheryl Strayed put my thoughts into an understandable example:
I decided what I make public through my work. I perform intimacy through my writing, but that doesn’t mean I’m intimate with everyone who reads it…A shorter way of saying this is there’s a big difference between feeling like you’re my best friend because you identified with my work and being my best friend. – Cheryl Strayed
I Write to Enjoy the World Around Me:
If you walk around with earplugs in, that won’t give you something to say. Nothing you’re going to write will be of import. Put those earbuds away and join the Peace Corps in Peru. That’ll give you something to work with. – James McBride
Mainly in my travelogues, such as this one, I have talked often about my efforts to disconnect from the online world and instead focus on the world around me. I unplug my headphones and keep my phone in my purse mainly because I want to take in all the world has to offer, but also because I draw much inspiration for my writing from my surroundings. A hike without headphones inspired the post Happy Hour, and solo trip to a museum lead to My Creative Process, and watching the seconds count down on the microwave as my oatmeal cooked instead of scrolling through my Instagram feed sparked 5 Ways to Save Money While Traveling.
With the desire to partake in new experiences – partly so I can continue to create unique content for this blog – I make a strong effort to absorb and actively participate in the world around me.
I Write to Expose my Truth:
I hate the phrase “creative nonfiction.” It sounds like a synonym for lying. You have to tell the truth when you’re writing what purports to be a memoir. – Edmund White
One of the things that is hardest, but also most rewarding, about writing about myself is opening up and exposing my flaws and misperceptions. As someone who has long been a self-proclaimed perfectionist, exposing myself to criticism is not the easiest thing. But I write because I am trying to move in the right direction, learning from both the people around me and from the mistakes I have made. My writing is an authentic representation of myself, and it helps me better embrace and understand my sense of self.
I write out of the sure knowledge that the more honest I am, the freer I am, and the freer I am, the happier I am. -Kate Christensen
Ultimately, writing has become a huge part of my life, which is crazy because it is never something that I was particularly interested in growing up, and writing doesn’t always come easily or naturally. Writing is also time consuming. I often just sit, looking out my bedroom window uncovering and analyzing the feelings provoked by the world around me. Then, having to transcribe my feelings into comprehendible and interesting sentences for total strangers to relate to. It is an art form, and one that I am still trying to master. I think Sue Monk Kidd put it well here,
I’m talking about the contemplative life, of course, which is, for me, a significant part of the writing life. On the other hand, I don’t want to mystify the process too much. Another significant part of writing is just plain hard work: sitting your behind in a chair and staying there.
At the end of the day though,
Writing is an amazing way to spend your life. It helps to be grateful for that, to stand in awe of it a little. – Sue Monk Kidd
As you can tell, this book sparked a lot of thoughts for me, and if you enjoy reading memoirs or like to write yourself, I would highly recommend it.
What would your memoir look like? What event from your life would you focus on? Let us know below.