In the face of all the tragedy – current and impending – of our world today, I search for solace but mostly find excuses and diversions. All the things to never buy are things I never bought before, all the small amounts of donations I used to spare are now too much of a dent on my budget, and I no longer have a captive audience of students to rant my righteousness.
But I can still write, that is what I set aside these three years for, that is the oath I swore.
In an ironic twist it seems that you have to already be famous to write a memoir. At conferences and workshops I get a look of pity with the response, “yes but why should anyone care?” It confuses me because I did not write these stories for what they say about me, I already know myself. I wrote stories commenting on other things: what it means to never bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to school, what does it mean to find calm amid a tragedy, does protest do anything or is it enough that we get to protest at all, why that man or the other or leaving or being left?
My current manuscript begins with a Letter to the Reader and the following paragraph. I am publishing it here because I am nearly certain that no real publisher would let it stand. I’ve heard, “It comes off as an apology, you underestimate the reader, why attempt to make such a statement before they even get into the story”.
Today I am reading a gut-wrenchingly honest memoir, written by an author already famous, so perhaps that is why he is able to write it non-linear, with intermittent poems, haunted by the ghost of his mother, with little to no concern for the reader (find it here). It actually strikes me as patronizing to spend time looking at sentences and projecting onto a hypothetical reader – who the fuck am I to dictate what they will or will not like. Maybe here I try to head off this by preemptively setting low – or maybe it is high – expectations.
I warn you this book may be deeply unsatisfying. Literature is meant to have a narrative arc which follows a complex character as they experience growth, or trauma, or redemption; but that is not truthful to my life, thus not how my memoir is written. I am not interested in sharing the whole truth and nothing but the truth with the world. What I do want to share are the moments that illuminate possibility in the imagination of the reader. I do want to inspire wrong choices, awkward declarations, poor judgment, impossible risks, and in general a celebration of what can happen without the restraint of doing the right thing.