Do You Really Want to Write a Memoir?

I don’t know about you, but I am memoired out. I’m not talking about the good stuff, like John Grogan’s Marley and Me, which has several full-bodied characters, including the dog. What’s worn me out is the never-ending slew of books that are about me, me, me, with everyone else a cardboard character who orbits around the professional victim.

I call these writers professional victims because they’ve made a career out of being victimized. No matter what happens, it’s never, ever their fault, and whatever griefs they suffer are always caused by someone else. Furthermore, they would never even consider harming anyone else, so whatever trouble comes to their nearest and dearest is always self-inflicted.

Unfortunately, they’ve got a lot of company. We’ve all been trained by our culture for decades to be professionals. What else is therapy for? We go in and whine for an hour (or, rather, fifty minutes), and then we come out puffed up with self-righteous misery.

The book that finally turned me off was Julia Cameron’s The Floor Sample. Cameron is the creator of The Artist’s Way series, as well as a poet, novelist, and screenwriter, but as soon as she starts talking about herself, everyone else in her life gets flattened into cardboard. She is done to and done upon, and somehow she always emerges as the innocent, injured party. I got so sick of her that I finally gave up reading the book just over halfway through.

I admit to having succumbed to memoiritis several times. I kept a journal for over twenty years that became a litany of my miseries, until I finally got so disgusted with myself that I threw all the volumes out.

I’ve also written countless short essays and book openings about my oh, so, hard life. But every time I worked on them, I only felt worse. So I finally decided to jettison my past-all of my pasts-and my life has been getting sunnier and more interesting ever since.

I figure we’ve all had hard lives in one way or another. No parent is perfect, husbands and wives sleep around, best friends betray you, and the folks in your family stomp on your heart. So what else is new?

Of course it matters what happens to us, but what determines the shape of our lives is how we respond. Do we stay mired in the muck of our miseries, or do we turn ourselves into heroes and courageously claw our way out of the pit?

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