Friday, January 14, 2011

What's a Memoir?

In a favorite book, Writing the Memoir, Judith Barrington quotes Gore Vidal:
"A memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, and facts double-checked."

Dee and I write biography (for other people) which requires interviews, original source quotes and documents to back up and correct every memory, plus historical research to place a person in context. I write memoir which is a creative collection of personal memories and how they impacted life from the viewpoint of the writer.

I use a lot of my memoirs as blog posts. It's a way I remember my own life. If you were there, you might recall something differently. It's OK. Your version can be written in your memoirs. (Grab the inspiration and run for your nearest blog post!)

Barrington concedes that many of us are put off writing a memoir because we've been asked (or asked ourselves) "Who cares about this? Who will be interested in reading my story?"

"The question should be Why do I care about this? The answer will make you feel entitled to tell your own story, to accept that it is not only worthy of being written down but something you want to revise and craft until it is beautiful. In time you will even come to believe that your story is important for other people to read.

"Once you are comfortable with writing, put aside thoughts of agents, publishers, audience, fame and fortune--none of which is conducive to good writing. Start thinking right away about what matters in your own life--what has most challenged you, formed you, influenced you. Start making lists and notes. And from time to time ask yourself who cares, and remind yourself—you do."

Nobody can write your memoirs the way you can. I'm writing my memoirs a story at a time. They will eventually be bound together as The Oma Storybook Collection, but for now they come a chapter at a time, just episodes in my life I think my grandkids might appreciate right now.

My most recent book was written about my Aunt Marie. She was a single aunt who found ways to plan interesting outings and make fun memories with me. I wanted to record her impact on my life. Compiling a few photos and, jotting down some concrete memories, I intertwined them with impressions and emotions I experienced with her.

(Click the picture if you want to read the text.)

Though Marie seems to be the star of the book, I didn't check with her about any of the facts. It's really about me and my memories. It could remind and inspire my siblings and cousins who had similar experiences, but I didn't check with them for accuracy, either. Had it been a biography, I would have double checked everything, but a memoir is personal, and more fun to write.

Here are a few random pages . . .

I put in things that might have meaning to the grandkids in some way.

Because I wrote it for my grandkids, I included pictures of them scampering through the pages, making funny comments about what I was telling them.

This is the type of gift I like to give. It's triple duty—I get chapters of my personal history written, my grandkids learn about me and from me, and can appreciate loved ones I had before they came along. Plus I can please someone who is remembered fondly. It was a true gift from the heart—about $15 per spiral bound copy, and at least thirty hours of tender thoughts. Writing it "turned my heart to my children," and hopefully "their hearts to their fathers," as it says in the Bible.

Now it's your turn:

Have you ever received or given a gift of memories?
Was it appreciated, or was it tucked away for "later"
never to be looked at again?
Maybe it's time to remember and recognize the love tucked inside.


marta said...

mom, i loved your 'aunt ree' book. i want to hear how she reacted!! i've been thinking i'd like to write some mini memoirs myself. thanks for reminding me..

Diane said...

Thanks for clarifying the difference between memoirs and autobiographies. If I'm going to get anything written along those lines it will have to be memoirs - more fun, and less "delaying" in my life right now.

Raejean said...

A couple of years ago, we had a few "memory" based email threads. For Christmas, I compiled and formatted then into a pronged folder as a gift to our extended family.

Susan Adcox said...

My father has written two books of memoirs, both offered for sale to the public. The first one sold very well, and he still gets calls for it, although we've been out of copies for many years. The second one was published when he was 90. Because he wasn't healthy enough to promote it, we still have boxes of that book. Still, I'm so grateful that he took the time to write his memoirs, twice.

Melanie Anne said...

Thank you for your sweet comment on my blog regarding my family dinner post. I have to admit that I was thrilled to get a comment from you:) I am a follower of your daughter Marta's blog and feel like I know you! I admire the Mother you are to your large and beautiful family! She has shared many little stories and examples of her fabulous Mother that have inspired me. So thank you and have a wonderful 2011!

Becky said...

She may have been your Aunt, but I'd say you got your darling "look" from your Aunt 'Ree.

Just checking in after a long time away - nice to read you and feel that sigh of coming home to a cozy spot by the fire.

Chiska said...

This Christmas I gave all my siblings and my parents a copy of an interview I did with my parents. Some of the stories had never been told before. I "Blurb" booked them and included some pictures I had scanned including a picture of my Mom that my Dad had kept in his wallet (all crinkly and cracked)and one of my Dad that my Mom had kept in her wallet. It cost me about $3 a book as I used the black and white textbook page option, but it a skinny little paper back that spreads the stories around. Some of them we hadn't heard before. I love that. I also love the idea of a short story memoir. My folks live far away and while we get to see my Mom regularly we don't get to see my Dad very often. I want my kids and their cousins to know something about him and have kicked around a Children's book idea for a long time. I think it's time to get started. Thanks!

polly said...

I love reading memoirs and journals. Especially those I know. It helps me know how the person was feeling and how they got through different situations. I loved your book about aunt Marie. She loved it too!

Tracy said...

Lovely. lovely, lovely...our memories are certainly powerful, aren't they! You write such a tribue to your aunt and I have the same thoughts as your daughter, Marta (love the name); how did she react?
I love giving the gift of memories which is what I try to do now through my blog when I do write about my family...
love the blog today!
oh, and I read the previous one since I've been busy the past few days and I love that poem and the picture took me back. I know I have a children's book that has that exact same picture so now I'll have to go hunt it down...

Heather @ Alis Grave Nil said...

Lovely post, and lovely inspiration to write one's history even if the details are kind of smudgy. Sometimes I let fear of being "wrong" stop me from writing about something--it's important that I remember that something has value just because of how it's remembered.

I wanted to also tell you that I spent some time with my grandparents yesterday (Gpa is writing his life's history) and I was telling them about you--encouraging him to include as many details about small things as possible because of how inspired I've been through getting to read about your life and the work that you and Dee do. Family history and writing are both big in my family--and you had an impact on our discussion yesterday.

Thanks for being you. :)