So, I was talking to my friend Alina about memoir the other day or week or whatever –
But, who really cares what day it was? One of my favorite poets, Jack Spicer, wrote, “An English major can tell you the date / I was lonelier than you are now/or will be/ September something 1958.”
There is so much you can take from that, but one idea that comes through is that the emotional reality is more important than any trivial details about what day it is or isn’t. This is how I live my life. I can remember facts and details, if I really try, but that’s not how my brain automatically works. I run on intuition and feeling, automatically sifting out facts and details as “trivial information.” It’s my greatest super power, and also my Achilles heel. (In my experience, our greatest super power and our Achilles heel are usually the same thing.)
OK. End of tangent – let’s try again.
I was talking to my friend Alina about memoir because it’s all I want to read lately – it just feeds me! But, also, it’s research. I am trying to figure out what transforms the personal into something universal, shared. Like, how can you tell personal stories that resonate with other people, that aren’t just trite, self-indulgent garbage?
To me, it is really important that art connects to others, that it is helpful, that it leaves you with new insights, revelations, curiosities, that it maybe even inspires you to be a better person. “Art for art’s sake” was never enough for me.
I want to share more of myself with others, but whenever I sit down to write I’m overwhelmed with this mean, critical voice that tells me that my stories don’t matter, that no one wants to hear my trite bullshit, and it stops me from sharing. It really comes from a painful drive toward perfection. But, here’s the thing:
No matter what I create, it will never be perfect. I will never be perfect, so there’s a lesson here about learning to fail in public, using failure as a way to learn to get better at whatever I’m trying to do.
But something that Alina pointed out that really made me think, (yes, we’re FINALLY getting to what she actually said): a lot of this critical self-talk that I’m struggling with is gendered. When cis men write personal stories, they feel like they are automatically tapping into some kind of universal shared reality, but when women write about themselves, they their work is often considered a self-indulgent diary entry, and female writers (including myself) internalize that negativity.
That kind of pissed me off because I think she’s probably right, so I decided to re-name this blog “Diary,” and tell my personal stories here. It feels powerful to me to own and reclaim the diary entry as something that can be deep and transformational for me and others.
I’ll share stories from my life and what I learned or am learning, and maybe, just maybe we can both take one step closer to healing our wounds, together.
Also, if you’re interested, here are some fantastic memoirs that I’ve read recently that I recommend. Have you read any good memoirs lately? How do you deal with your inner critic and move forward?