“It is not my deeds that I write down, it is myself, my essence.” ~Montaigne
I have always wondered how and when it is that people decide to start writing their memoirs or autobiographies. I mean, at what point in your life do you sit down and decide, “Today, I am going to start writing the story of me.”? Is there some level of famous you have to achieve or a certain level of life experience points that need to be gained first? Or is it just something inside of you and you just know that now is the time?
I have been feeling that pull for over half a decade now. I have already written quite a bit in fits and starts both here on this blog and in various journals and notebooks offline. Sometimes, the stories just surface when I sit down to write simple blog posts; I get distracted when trying to jot down a grocery list; and sometimes, I find myself pouring my heart out in emails to innocent bystander-friends. I can not seem to escape the fact that there are stories and learned wisdom trying to get out of me. So, I write.
“I gather together the dreams, fantasies, experiences that preoccupied me as a girl, that stay with me and appear and reappear in different shapes and forms in all my work. Without telling everything that happened, they document all that remains most vivid.” ~Bell Hooks
I write about a childhood that I try hard to forget about; the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll of being a teenager; addiction and recovery; becoming a midwife; first loves and lovers; loss; teaching high schoolers and Unschooling my son; counseling fellow rape survivors; dealing with homophobia, transphobia, and racism; fireflies and dragonflies; wading in Waldon Pond; Catholicism, Santería, and Hoodoo; being a lesbian married to and madly in love with a man; becoming a mother and my subsequent battle with secondary infertility; moving across the country and starting over; being a synesthete; coming out as genderqueer/nonbinary trans, and finally, I write about finding myself again and being happy in my own skin.
Sometimes, I wonder why exactly people write their stories out. Why do we take our time to record our stories and then take it one step further and share them with others and with the public? I think for me, it is a matter of exercising some of my demons. It is being honest about things I have done, said, witnessed, and lived, as well as forcing myself to accept all of those things (the “good” and the “bad”) as part of who I am, to not hide them away like secrets from others, and to become vulnerable.
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ~Sylvia Plath
“We should probably all pause to confront our past from time to time, because it changes its meaning as our circumstances alter.” ~Karen Armstrong
I think there is also some aspect of accountability in making these kinds of things public. What have I learned since that memory? How have I changed and become a better person than I once was? How have I overcome the negative aspects of my history and not repeated bad cycles? How have I learned to love, myself and others? How do I express the outcomes, the changes, and the progress? It is one thing to tell the stories, it is another thing to share how they ultimately end.
Ultimately, all of this writing will become a book. And this is where I think I struggle the most. To publish a book is to basically ask people to read it. To ask people who are featured in the book to read it. This means that I must open myself up for conversations that I am not sure I care to have or to revisit. This means having to look certain people in the eye and telling them that they were wrong (and in many ways, still are). This means digging up old bones, cutting open old wounds, and stirring pots that had been left to simmer on back burners.
“Looking back over sixty-odd years, life is like a piece of string with knots in it, the knots being those moments that live in the mind forever, and the intervals being hazy, half-recalled times when I have a fair idea of what was happening, in a general way, but cannot be sure of dates or places or even the exact order in which events took place.” ~George MacDonald Fraser
As I contemplate all of this, I can not help but wonder if all of the other writers, the ones that have put their stories out there, had these same internal arguments and struggles. Do they just not give a fuck about hurt feelings, backlash, or difficult conversations? I generally think of myself as someone who does not give a fuck what others think. This is true, however, there is still something in my way. When talking about writing my stories, I have said on more than one occasion, “I am not nearly old enough to have lived this much and my parents are too young to read this shit!”
And so, I will continue to write my stories, keeping them collected, until one day I feel as though I have arrived, I have written enough. Then I will have my husband edit the hell out of it all.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ~Anne Lamott