Monday, November 16, 2015

Muddling Memoir: Beginnings

My husband comes home to a dining room strewn with research materials and a very moody, distant wife.

"Are you living too much in the past?" he asks.

"I'm a memoirist," I snap. "I have to go back there."

Later we talk. He understands memoir. He's lived through my writing of two earlier memoirs. He knows the value of facing the past head on and making sense of lives lived. I am fortunate. He is not threatened by my past. At the same time, I acknowledge the importance of finding balance, of not letting the past control the present, of making certain memoir writing does not overshadow present living.

The determination to understand one's past is fundamental to memoir. It requires honest self-examination which makes some writers uncomfortable and some readers disinterested. For me, truth - personal and historical truth - are vital to self understanding. I live an examined life and that examination has been my salvation.

Memoir writing also requires memory, or so one would assume, but remembering the people, events and emotions from twenty, thirty, forty years earlier can be challenging. That's where journal and letter writing, photography, and general pack-ratting are useful. Despite my travels, my moves, my instability for the first three decades of life, I seem to have saved everything. As a UC Santa Cruz archaeology student in the late 1970s, I had no idea I'd be using learned techniques to dig into my own past decades later. Perhaps those classes instilled in me the need to document my life and to preserve all.

I began a third memoir this past summer. In this new work, I return to the early 1980s when I was an ex-pat living in Mexico and to 2010 when three of us friends re-unite in London and reminisce about our shared experiences in that city. An idea surfaces and a title emerges: The Ex-Mexican Wives Club.

The challenge in writing this memoir is to re-enter a world so radically changed I no longer recognize it or myself. I am no longer that lost young woman. To write this memoir I must re-enter the confused mind of that twenty-something ex-pat in Mexico City who was me.

Over the next many months, I will be sharing my journey in memoir writing. Whether you are a writer interested in the form or a reader who loves it, I hope you'll join me.

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