Unique Understanding

Memoir Writing

This post is one of 26 I am writing for the A-Z Challenge on the subject of writing a memoir. I’m not an expert in writing memoirs, but I’m exploring the topic with thoughts about writing one, and am happy to share the fruits of my exploration.

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MemoirWriting-UniqueUnderstanding

I hope this never happens to you! Or to me. We all understand things in different ways. Our memories are all unique. That’s why, if ten people are present at a scene, each one will describe it in a different way.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to have written this:

The incidents described and views expressed in this memoir are all my own (unless otherwise ascribed). Other people might well see the events in different ways or disagree with my opinions. But it was the way I saw and reacted to events that influenced me. Anyone who disagrees with me is welcome to write their own memoir.

In other words, I might have got a scene completely wrong. I may have inadvertently changed the facts, or I may have interpreted them incorrectly. But as long as I believe or believed in the facts and my interpretation as written, the outcome has been part of my emotional journey, and so these things deserve a place in my memoir.

André Aciman has some interesting things to say about truth in memoir here.

Unfortunately, but excitingly, I probably won’t be able to respond to your comments before the beginning of May. But do please keep commenting. When the challenge is over, I will write a concluding post with a summary of all the advice you’ve been giving me. And don’t forget, the Comment link is at the top of this post.

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Yesterday I began to write my reasons why I no longer want to hide my past, and how I should answer a writing colleague who wonders why. He deserves an answer; as well as asking me to my face, he wrote the question on his critique of my personal essay: “Why can’t the writer just MOVE ON and forget about all these injustices which are way gone?”

Interestingly, the same man also wrote, “I learned a lot about this social anxiety problem,” and he told us he’d looked up the term.

In the excellent post I mentioned yesterday, Joe Warnimont also wrote:

It’s when we forget to listen to stories of misfortune, the same events happen over and over again.

In writing, we need to consider what readers can gain. The rest of my reasons for writing about my past are for the readers:

  • I want to help readers to understand me and the many others like me. I want to clear up the misconceptions: that we’re stuck up, don’t want to talk, etc.
  • I hope, like my writing colleague, readers will learn about social anxiety, which is much more common than most people think.
  • I hope readers will learn about bullying and what it can do to the one on the receiving end of it.

If my writing could also lead to help for those who are suffering now, that would be the best reason of all.

I didn’t gain anything through all the years I tried to forget what happened. As Angela Brown said in her comment on my post from yesterday:

Forgive, forget, move on. Easier said than done because, in more instances observed, moving on doesn’t come from forgetting, it comes from the growth learned and earned from experiences.

Remembering is much healthier, if done in the right way. I don’t write about the past to perpetuate some feeling of victimhood. I’m not stuck in the past. My essay ends on a positive note with my hopes for the future. Looking back has helped me to look forward to something better.

I’ve just realised why I have a problem telling people about social anxiety – well, one of the problems.

I say, “I suffer from social anxiety.” It’s true – it causes suffering. But I say it because that’s the only way I can think of saying it. It’s not what I really want to say.

When someone says, “I suffer,” it sounds as if they’re asking for sympathy. “Oh you poor thing – I do hope you get better soon.” That kind of thing. But I don’t want sympathy. I’m not some poor, pathetic character who spends her life feeling sorry for herself.

I tell people in the hope that they’ll understand why I am as I am. I tell them so that they’ll know this thing not only exists but is very common, even though it’s seldom mentioned. I want understanding, not sympathy.

And as far as getting rid of it is concerned, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one does that. You can learn to live with it, to do things despite it, to stop letting it restrict you. But it doesn’t go away. It’s always there, somewhere.

Anyway, coming back to the problem – the “suffering” one, how can I explain it without the S-word? Any ideas?