Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What is the purpose of revealing yourself in memoir? (03/15/09)



Featured writer: David Hoag



Contributors this month:
Sharon Hamilton
Charlene Bunas
Christine Falcone
David Hoag
Debbie Weiss
Don Edgers
Glanda Widger
Jennie Orvino
Judythe Guarnera
Marilyn Petty
Marlene Cullen
Tania Pryputniewicz


My Memoir

by David Hoag

The Lion back there in the movie, Wizard of Oz, on a journey along the Yellow Brick Road, mourned his lack of courage, a first value after truth. In the movie, he found courage at the end and in his journey revealed the second value - mourning. He had to mourn his lack of courage along the way, his sense of unstated loss; and, so do I. The movie's ending resolved his issue - he learned a truth, that by his actions, he had courage all along. My life's greatest trepidation is that I'll be unmasked. This issue, unresolved, is emasculation, which grows out of fear of revealing too much. This fear of being unmasked, is my journey, my Yellow Brick Road.

Dave Barry, the humorist, always says in his column for the newspaper, "I'm not making this up," and each time he beams off far afield to capture humor in current events in which he is not a player. But of course he is making it up, exaggerating true events for which he claims no participation, no responsibility; whereas, if I write a focused memoir, I have to believe there is one true thing, a time, a place, an emotion that I remember. But more importantly, I must be answerable and accountable — one hand raises and asks, "Can it be memoir if I am not?"

And, in memoir I am the central player, the one responsible.

Remembrance and emotion, those two synergistic parts of my soul, would they lie to me? "No," I say. "How could they? Lying is a conscious effort. Isn't that so?"

But, the other hand raises and the question becomes, "Who is willing and has the courage to travel the Yellow Brick Road necessary to reveal the truth?" If I say that I am, I would tell you this, "I beg you, dear reader, to listen as I reveal the truth that I could not face before, not even in my prayers."

This decade, courage and truth are two values seemingly lost along with the melt-down on Wall Street. Essayist Dorothy Parker wrote, "The writer's way is rough and lonely and who would choose it while there are vacancies in more gracious professions, such as, say cleaning ferryboats?"

Dave Barry is being humorous when he says, "I'm not making this up." Dorothy Parker correctly detects the writer's way as being rough and lonely; and, I am not making it up when I say that I believe what Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament taught, "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

Courage in mourning and mourning is another word for remembrance. My most powerful memory is fear, a fear that out of remembrance, that in writing a memoir, I will be unmasked.

And, like the lion, it is audacity in the face of apprehension that induces me down the Yellow Brick Road.

David Hoag, is an Eagle, ID writer trying to figure out, “What does it mean to be a man in the Twenty-first Century?” In this quest, he uncovered a truth — That good writing is emotional, painful, and because rising plus falling tension entwines us, it causes misery. Without suffering it won’t amount to anything.
E-Mail David Hoag


Life Saver

  by Sharon Hamilton

I am separated from the one I love forever. I am writing my memoir because I don't want to forget what I had experienced as his Guardian- not that I could - but just in case. I want to remember my time with him in the human world.

I came to save him, and in the process left a piece of myself behind.

It is buried in the colors and texture of his paintings - hanging in someone's living room or office. It is buried in the small air spaces beneath the spring bulbs we planted together. It wafts in and out of the steam when he takes a shower. A piece of me lies on the windowsill greeting the new light of the day.

There is no one here I can confide in, except Father, and I don't want to discuss it with him. He knows anyway. Still, there is a strange deliciousness in having private thoughts and words - something only mine. And who else could ever understand what it feels like to really love like I have, like I do.

My memoirs will then be my life saver, my way to hang on to those thoughts without having to go through the "wash." In private, and probably with tears, I will extravagantly explore the things my heart feels, and why.

Sharon Hamilton has become a full time writer as of December. She writes paranormal, inspirational and "regular" romance (whatever that
is..), as well as memoir. Her 6-word memoir: House Burned; Rebuilding Green; Minimalism Required.


Why Me?

  by Charlene Bunas

What is the purpose of putting "Me" into Memoir? Without "Me," Memoir would spell "Moir," a non-word. This is close to "Moil" (a verb meaning "to keep one's nose to the grindstone, as in, work hard"), but still, meaningless.

I could try to avoid "Me" while writing--but why? "I" am subject and object, victor and victim, the winner and, of course, the loser. A memoir is a perfect opportunity to use "I" as much as possible.

I hope. I fear. I love and I laugh. I cry. I think I'm crazy. Often I am ashamed. Or guilty. I am a proud woman, but brake the bragging. I like to be recognized for jobs well done but beg to be understood for jobs mangled. In memoir, I am invited to write about everything that made me, "Me."

By putting "Me" into Memoir, I write raw honesty. By reading my memoirs, our son and daughter and our four grandchildren will realize they are more like their Mom/Nana than they could have ever imagined. I trust them with my truth; it's the ultimate gift.

Charlene Bunas is a writer who says, "Most writing contains an element of memoir."

Why Reveal Yourself in Memoir?

  by Christine Falcone

I see memoir as a bridge. And my hope is that by revealing myself in memoir, someone out there may identify and feel - even for a brief moment - a little less alone on this planet. But it's scary to show the world our scars; after all, we don't want to hear about how perfect a life is. We are interested in each other's brokenness. Showing this side of ourselves feels risky, like being exposed. It's the equivalent of walking out on stage naked.

Years ago, I use to usher at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco. That was how I came to see the play "Oh! Calcutta!" - a production done entirely in the nude. After the initial shock value of seeing an entire cast in their birthday suits, I all but forgot about the nudity once the story got under way. It's kind of like that with memoir. It just comes with the territory. It's all part of the play, and we must be willing.

Christine Falcone is working on revealing more and more of herself in Novato, California, though she still hasn’t walked out on stage naked yet.

My Memoir

  by David Hoag

The Lion back there in the movie, Wizard of Oz, on a journey along the Yellow Brick Road, mourned his lack of courage, a first value after truth. In the movie, he found courage at the end and in his journey revealed the second value - mourning. He had to mourn his lack of courage along the way, his sense of unstated loss; and, so do I. The movie's ending resolved his issue - he learned a truth, that by his actions, he had courage all along. My life's greatest trepidation is that I'll be unmasked. This issue, unresolved, is emasculation, which grows out of fear of revealing too much. This fear of being unmasked, is my journey, my Yellow Brick Road.

Dave Barry, the humorist, always says in his column for the newspaper, "I'm not making this up," and each time he beams off far afield to capture humor in current events in which he is not a player. But of course he is making it up, exaggerating true events for which he claims no participation, no responsibility; whereas, if I write a focused memoir, I have to believe there is one true thing, a time, a place, an emotion that I remember. But more importantly, I must be answerable and accountable — one hand raises and asks, "Can it be memoir if I am not?"

And, in memoir I am the central player, the one responsible.

Remembrance and emotion, those two synergistic parts of my soul, would they lie to me? "No," I say. "How could they? Lying is a conscious effort. Isn't that so?"

But, the other hand raises and the question becomes, "Who is willing and has the courage to travel the Yellow Brick Road necessary to reveal the truth?" If I say that I am, I would tell you this, "I beg you, dear reader, to listen as I reveal the truth that I could not face before, not even in my prayers."

This decade, courage and truth are two values seemingly lost along with the melt-down on Wall Street. Essayist Dorothy Parker wrote, "The writer's way is rough and lonely and who would choose it while there are vacancies in more gracious professions, such as, say cleaning ferryboats?"

Dave Barry is being humorous when he says, "I'm not making this up." Dorothy Parker correctly detects the writer's way as being rough and lonely; and, I am not making it up when I say that I believe what Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament taught, "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

Courage in mourning and mourning is another word for remembrance. My most powerful memory is fear, a fear that out of remembrance, that in writing a memoir, I will be unmasked.

And, like the lion, it is audacity in the face of apprehension that induces me down the Yellow Brick Road.

David Hoag, is an Eagle, ID writer trying to figure out, “What does it mean to be a man in the Twenty-first Century?” In this quest, he uncovered a truth — That good writing is emotional, painful, and because rising plus falling tension entwines us, it causes misery. Without suffering it won’t amount to anything.
E-Mail David Hoag


What is the purpose of revealing myself in memoir?

  by Debbie Weiss

To get me out there - to tell my story - to get known to others- to get known to myself. I think I have a lot to say, and to tell and to share, even when I don't write.I am pretty shy. Maybe I'm too lazy or not giving me the time I need for me to open up.

I think I am fun, witty, somewhat intelligent (not with geography though, or math or even science). But smart nonetheless. There are girls at work lately who have been coming up to me for answers to clothing and boyfriend problems, just to chat and get my opinion on many different matters. I feel very flattered. I answer with confidence like I really know the right words to say. I actually sound super intelligent like I have been there and know what they are going through. Sometimes it cracks me up. Sometimes I think I should have been a therapist. They are looking to me and would probably be interested in reading my memoirs and what I have to say and tell.

I am an amazing listener, although sometimes I talk and answer back much too fast. I offer suggestions; I am not too overpowering or overbearing. I am sensitive to other peoples' needs. I am simple, yet quite complex. I have fun stories of the past, I have done many crazy things I think some people might enjoy a glimpse of in my memoirs. Some things they could relate to and other things they would say thank God that did not happen to me.

I'm regular, I'm unique. But for the most part, I think they would find "me" fun reading, enjoyable, lively, touching, sad, a little hard, a little soft and hopefully not conceited or full of myself. I don't believe I'm that. At one point in my life, I may have been a little uppity but I have come down to reality from then. And what would I title my memoirs? "The Book of Debbie" of course!



Debbie Weiss of Penngrove, California, says, "Having grown up in the sunny skies of Los Angeles, I am always in sunglasses, even in the rain. I like writing poetry, song lyrics, in my journal and would love to complete a screenplay."


Me, Myself & I

  by Don Edgers

The purpose of revealing oneself in memoir perhaps is to create, enhance, destroy or perpetuate rumors, legends, myths and/or lore concerning personal experiences, thoughts and nature of the author.

Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, and author of her memoir: Tough Choices, says, "It turns out that people, whether they're children or adults, like to be asked about themselves."

Author, M.E. Kerr titled her memoir, me, me, me, me: Not a Novel to dispel any doubt about who the book was about. She said, "This is an answer to many letters from kids wanting to know if the things I write about really happened to me."

I grew up at an intriguing and eventful time in history, and lived in an interesting and historical geographical location. Because I taught English and writing, and had the gift of remembering minute (as in small) details of my life, I wrote newspaper articles of my experiences, people and places. When the paper became extinct, I continued writing with the thought of publishing a book. Ten years later, the self-published historical memoir An Island In Time: Growing up in the 1940s came to fruition. Readers wanted more, so five years later I self-published An Island In Time II: Coming of age in the 1950's. These memoirs convinced a regional history publisher, Arcadia Publishing, that I would be the choice for an author of the pictorial history of Fox Island. So, two self-published memoirs led to a traditionally published book with pictures of me and my family interspersed throughout its pages--like an ultimate family memoir.

Let's face it, we'll never know the real story behind pathological liars, or those in Witness Protection programs or the 535 who govern /control the rest of the U.S. population, unless they spill the beans in memoirs.

Don Edgers’ memoirs are available on www.amazon.com . More memoirs are forthcoming from his home computer in Port Orchard, WA. www.anislandintime.com

What is the purpose of revealing yourself in a memoir?

  by Glanda Widger

I recently received a rejection from a magazine that publishes short memoirs. They said that a true memoir was not funny but a serious delving into events in your life that offered conflict and resolution. Well that scared the heck out of me. Why would I want to remember suppressed stuff that will make me miserable?

Have you ever considered that writing about your life might just open a Pandora's box? The key word is delving, followed by revealing. I don't want either one. I want, "here's the way I want it to be".

Now don't start with me about all that posterity and legacy stuff. What good is leaving something for your family that will no doubt tick them off big time? I get those silly "get to know you" questionnaires from my friends and family all the time. I lie on the answers.

I am sure that there are some out there whose life would make wonderful reading. Who can write about everything that happened and get great spin-off stories from the journal. Who, in the telling of the tale can purge anger and injustices. I am not one of those people. I would no doubt sink into a fit of depression that would have me swinging from tree branches, long before too many of those miserable memories reached the light of day.Ignorance is bliss as far as I can see. Or how about,"What you don't know can't hurt you"? Change that to "What you wish to repress can't hurt you."

I think I may have strayed somewhat off the path of the question. That was on purpose. In my terrified opinion there is no purpose for writing memoirs unless you plan to leave out the bad parts( in which case it really would not be a memoir) or sell your story to a science fiction magazine.

Glanda writes what she feels and says what she thinks. She also lies a lot and tends to exaggerate. Mostly she gets through the hard times here on this hillside by not delving into anything but the parts of her life that make her smile.

Why memoir?

  by Jennie Orvino

I suppose in my 62 years I have lied a couple of times, but I try not to. My intention is to tell the truth as I see it--in conversation and in my writing. The "I" in my poems is usually some version of me, and when I write an essay, a piece of literary non-fiction, or memoir (I've learned there are fine distinctions among these), I'm trying to make sense of my experience. If I can find the humor and heart, say it artfully and sensually, maybe, by good fortune, it will make sense to others. They will smile and nod in recognition, or they will dislike me for bringing it up! But it makes a bond between us.

When I ask myself why I've kept a journal for more than 40 years straight, the answer is: to show myself how much I've grown and changed, and also to see how much my core stays recognizable, solid. When I was 21, I wrote, "I think my purpose in life is to write poetry and work for peace." A couple of years ago, when asked by my creative coach to come up with a mission statement, I wrote essentially the same thing I found in that 1969 diary.

Another reason for revealing myself in memoir is to make history. No one but me can tell the story of that time and place, from that perspective. I may have kept it from my parents, now dead, but I don't have to keep it from my daughter or my grandson. The heroes I admired, the people I loved, what we dared, what we hoped for, how we failed, and how much like this moment it was, and how unlike it, is worth saying, and worth saying well.


And the act of honest disclosure, of allowing myself to be vulnerable, is a good example. It can give courage to those who have difficult stories to tell, much more difficult than mine.

Jennie Orvino lives in Santa Rosa, CA, and invites comments tojennieo@sonic.net.

Connections

  by Judythe Guarnera

If I were to tag my writing, I would say I write to connect through communication, which is a cornerstone of my existence. Occasionally I write short fiction, but most of my writing is memoir or essay. Since I have strong convictions about many things, I write essays to persuade or convince.

To identify what draws me to memoir is a little more complex. Our local college offered a memoir writing class. It was inexpensive, within walking distance, and intriguing. I spent the next three months writing about my life, reading to the group and listening to the stories of my fellow memoirists.

The structure of the class was informal; the leader didn't focus on writing ability or style, but encouraged us to research and record our family history. At first I was disappointed, but soon was lost in the emotions that flooded my mind, as I shared events from my past.

Each session I would place my story on the table. Right next to it was a journal, the cover of which depicted the ocean, which is also part of my story. Although I was attentive to the others as they read, their stories triggered memory after memory in my life. I jotted these in my journal. At the end of the class, I had a list of more than a hundred events about which I longed to write. Remembering the enjoyment on the faces of my memoir group as I read, I decided that others might enjoy my stories, too.

A member of my current critique group commented that I had led such an interesting life and had so much to write about. I believe that we all have amazing stories to tell. Perhaps I have a different way of looking at my life. I see humor where others might see embarrassment. I see the thread that connects various events, some painful, some happy, some humorous, until they become a life story.

My first marriage did not provide me with the support and communication I craved. I searched for experiences that would enrich my life. I went back to college, where my mind was challenged, my interest piqued, my loneliness eased through meaningful friendships. I hid my feelings with humorous stories that entertained my young college friends. These prepared me for writing memoir. When I told them and made others laugh, I recognized the richness and how my being was intricately woven into those stories.

I now have the companionship, love and sharing that I craved, another source of story. I am never at a loss for something to write about. Rather I fear that the rest of my life won't be long enough to tell all my stories.

When others read my memoirs I hope they remember stories of their own. So, why do I write memoir? To help me to look at the past with humor and appreciation and to inspire others to do the same.

Judythe Guarnera of Grover Beach, CA, is a graduate of the “Breaking Into Print” Writing Program, a freelance writer, mediator and Senior Peer Counselor. Many of her essays have been published in local publications and in an anthology. Judythe has been involved with women and senior programs and issues for almost 25 years. Much of her writing is focused on connection through communication. She can be reached at:E-Mail Judythe

Yes, Me

  by Marilyn Petty

When I am old and dotty like my friend, Lorna, and I am hunkered down in my ratty old Barcalounger, I shall keep a firm hold on a small book, an account of my life printed on the finest bond and handbound in red leather, entitled My Memoirs. And though the life I led is not a life of extraordinary adventures, tragedies, peaks and valleys, it will, nevertheless, be a compelling account, beautifully written, of how I realized the joy of discovering who I really am.
And when I die and my caretakers, those dear members of family and many friends who ordered me about and talked too loud as if I were an obstreperous, odiferous child, sit down to read my book they will discover how precious one life is, how special everyone born to live on this earth is and how, with humility and gratitude, each is to be praised and honored, always.

Marilyn Petty thinks daily about starting her memoirs and she’s not getting any younger.

Why do it?

  by Marlene Cullen

For me, the purpose of writing memoir is the healing and revelation that happens through writing. I learn and surprise myself through my writing. When I write memoir, I examine and understand my life. So, it's a type of therapy.

Recently, I had the joy of reading about a Salinas Valley family. Many of the stories were excerpted from the diary of a young man, written in 1873.

It was fun to learn about the daily life of a farm boy and his family. He told about missing many days of school because he had to stay home to do farm chores. With his descriptive writing, I imagined the scene of the Saturday night dances. I could see the bushels of fruit and produce. I felt the bump of the wagon wheels as they rode into town to sell at the Farmer's Market.

We could and maybe should write about our daily activities so our descendants can know something about us and how we live. Even if we just write the highlights, it will be a fun journey for our children's children to know something about our lives.

The following quote from The Writer magazine, March 2004, eloquently answers the purpose of revealing oneself in memoir:

"Life often has a way of making people feel small and unimportant. But if you find a way to express yourself through writing, to put your ideas and stories on paper, you'll feel more consequential. No one should pass through time without writing their thoughts and experiences down for others to learn from. Even if only one person, a family member, reads something you wrote long after you're gone, you live on. So writing gives you power. Writing gives you immortality."

---Antwone Fisher, Screenwriter and author of, "Antwone Fisher," "Finding Fish:
A Memoir," and "Who Will Cry For The Little Boy?"

Marlene Cullen writes and revels in the joys of the craft of writing in her writing nook in Petaluma, CA.www.thewritespot.us

Some Small Comfort

  by Tania Pryputniewicz

I just finished reading Out Stealing Horses by Per Peterson (translated by Anne Born), still reeling from the sparse, luminous prose. I found my heart breaking more than once—-first on behalf of the narrator--boy abandoned—-and again when realizing a man's pain in our culture usually matters more than a woman's. Wait--I promise this won't be an angry college feminist diatribe, but a look at why I might have no other choice than to reveal myself in memoir.

It took me a few days to back up and feel what I missed in Out Stealing Horse as a female reader: female characters. It reminded me of exiting the movie theater (college days, as a Women's Studies student) fresh from The Last Temptation of Christ, in tears. Why was it wrong for Jesus to stop long enough to have children (as he does in one of the alternate paths he takes in the film), wrong for his search for enlightenment to be interrupted by either physical love for a woman lover (Magdelene) or potentially eclipsed by the sharing of raising children? I took hard that day, but to heart, the message that only a man's journey to his spirituality could be so important, lonely, and ultimately so lovely.

Peterson's novel is flawless: a perfect whole. I wouldn't change a word of it. But I have to turn away from its beauty and go within and listen for my own narratives, look to other mirrors, as a female writer walking through a life in which Jesus, Buddha and the president are male, my daily existence interwoven with the lives of the women and men I love. If I were to step into the arena and play with Peterson, in the tradition of Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea: in which she speaks as Jane Eyre's Bertha), it might be to speak as one of Peterson's characters. For example, Trond's mother—-left behind in the city, waiting for her husband (who is in fact running papers across the border and falling in love with another woman). Or to tell her story (the new lover).

And that's the freedom of being a writer: the playground is vast; all are welcome. I write memoir to give another fraction of possibility for what it means to live as a girl, woman, mother and a writer in this culture to a readership female as well male (my father, my brother, my sons). When you reveal yourself, undeniably you expose yourself. And your particular contradictions (to others, but more importantly, to yourself). Then the alchemy begins: those moments of sorrow, confusion or joy formerly crossed alone transmute into something crossed with others. If lucky, one of us might be able to offer some small truth, some small comfort.

Tania Pryputniewicz’s latest essay, “Sheila’s Vine,” is currently available at Copperfield’s bookstores in the anthology, Labor Pains and Birth Stories. An Iowa Writers’ Workshop grad, Tania lives in Sebastopol, California with her husband. She stays sane by keeping her laptop in the kitchen where she can update her blog at: www.poetrymom.blogspot.com
while caring for her three children and five feral cats.


Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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