Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Tragic Memoir: Ultimately Hopeful, Definitely Useful

Lately, I've been in contact with some wonderful writers who have been through terrible, tragic experiences. I very much admired their courage in telling their stories, as I told them, and I think they did public services, truly, by writing about their personal pain. These writers are also kind, giving, honest people, as I could tell from our correspondences, and I admire them for that, too.

Elizabeth McCracken wrote An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination about her son, Pudding, who was, heartbreakingly, still born a few years ago-see book shot on left; and Shirley Enebrad wrote Over the Rainbow Bridge about her son, Cory, who died at age nine from leukemia, but who left her with a lifetime's worth of lessons about love, metaphysics and mysticism--see book shot on right (the photo is smaller for some reason, but I can't change that).

When we've been through something that turns our life upside down, what is the best course of action? Is it forgetting about it, not talking about it, 'moving on?'

That's one school of thought. But honestly, sometimes the hardest thing to do is to re-live the experience by writing about it. To write about tragedy is probably the toughest road, but it is also, I think, the most worthwhile to travel.

Why? Because we can learn from each other's stories. If we do not share those stories, then we will never realize our profound connections with other people we don't even know. Those people will never realize, in turn, that they are not alone in their pain.  We will all just fade away, lonely and misunderstood.

Writing my own memoir about teaching and the hell I endured last year (most unjustly; I was nothing if not misunderstood in my quest to really challenge and hone thinking skills and open minds and help my students become bright, productive citizens of the world) has been very hard.  I did it because I know my words will eventually make a difference to other people, other teachers.  I did it not for me (because truly, I would rather not think about this most of the time) but for the world.

This past year, I have read so many disgusting, horrible, cruel and nasty comments that were written about me by, I assume, people who don't want students to have to think, who would rather they spout the bullet points they've been fed. Total strangers have speculated about me, calling me "immature" and much worse. People I don't know have told me, via comments, to "STFU!" I even saw a newspaper columnist write a sickening column about memoir writers who should "keep it in a diary."

Some people are very threatened by the truth, I guess. Some people don't want to see anyone else rise above their pain and share their stories. Why this is, I cannot imagine.

I am only glad that there exist brave souls who have put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and written down all the painful details, words that made them, I am sure, cry all over again, and even made readers cry, too.

It is not such a bad thing to cry. To cry can be cleansing. To cry means we feel and we are alive. 

We write because, mostly, we must. We also write as a service. If you get that, you are more highly evolved than some others who would prefer that you suffer in silence and "shut up."

Thanks, Elizabeth and Shirley and every other memoir writer I have loved. I hope to soon join your ranks as a writer with a painful personal (but important, if not nearly as tragic) story to share. 

Still, this is not about me; this is about writing about the pain we've all endured. Only by writing about it can we finally get past it--even if the fact that we've written our stories means people keep asking us about them, or, in turn, stop to tell us their stories, too.

Writers are inevitably teachers, but they are also students of the world--and everyone who retells her or his story is trying to share an important lesson.

I am listening for the lesson. Are you?


  1. I love it when you talk books, and i think it's amazing how the two covers of the books you cited have a similar style. Coincidence, or not? Also, can't wait to read yours!

  2. I am sorry that you have unjustifiably endured the pain that you did at the hands of naive, stupid people. You didn't deserve it and your success will be your best revenge. It's hard to believe that people can be so mean and ruthless....karma will hit them between the eyes some day and they will have to repent for THEIR sins....

  3. Hi @Memoir Fan--thanks; I love talking about books. I might go all book review, but there's enough of that, probably. I just do the occasional books. Yes, it is indeed rather odd how the books I just mentioned have similar coloring, etc. I have been thinking about book covers quite a bit for the past several days (I am designing my own; it is not easy, but I am picky and controlling and I basically have to do it myself). I will keep you posted about the memoir, never fear.

    @TeachersAreGreat--thanks for your kind comment. I will give you a scribble soon (means I will send you an e-mail) and let you know details.

    Thanks for reading.



  4. One of the things I thought was most interesting (in a bad way) was how people on the newspaper comment boards completely lost their sh&t when you published your Op-Eds, which, let me just add, were excellent.

    There's a creepy converse of logic happening. The more sense you make, the better you come across, the more people lose their minds!

    Wishing you all the best!

  5. Ha. Thanks. You get it, and I appreciate that.



  6. Update: the memoir will be out soon. The truth in all its sickening glory will be told. Fasten your seatbelts because I am, as a blurber just told me, "an inspiring badass."

    Makes a great Christmas present...more soon.