What is Memoir?

When I was a young reader I was very influenced by memoir-type books. I particularly loved the stories of upbeat, fun-loving people who talked about living adventureous lives.

(This is me - age 13 - at Piedmont Junior High School, Charlotte, NC - dressed in my initiation outfit for the Junior Honor Society. That basket was filled with books and we had to carry them on our heads throughout the day.)

Take for instance the two smart-talking young women on their first trip to Europe in "Our Hearts Were Young and Gay".  I was about 12 years old when I read OHWYG - and had no idea about an ocean voyage much less about traveling in Europe. The two heroines were new college graduates ready to confront a wide-world - something so far removed from my life as to be unimaginable to me - but I loved their spirit and the way Cornelia Otis Skinner described their adventures and mis-adventures.

Skinner's writing style influenced my letters for years as I tried to translate my pretty bland ordinary every day life into up-beat slang infested language. Then I became enamored by Irma Bombeck - one of the women of the 50s who wrote funny vignettes of family life. I loved those writers who could find the funny in the housewife's life.

The stories I tell today are drawn from life...ok ok my life. Sometimes I turn to funny. Some times I touch the truth and pain of real experience.  The constant thread in my work is the wish to record my life and the times, to make sense of it, to give these days of living meaning and value, to keep the people I love and loved close, to share whatever I have learned. Why? Because I believe each person's story has meaning and is important in the large fabric of life.

What's all this about?
Well, I am starting a memoir class this week.
I want to hear how the instructor describes what it means to "write a memoir" that's different from "telling a story?"

Have I been on the right track with my blog? If I have maybe I can cull through the past 6 years of writing and sift those words into my memoir.

No doubt about it.  Jim's death taught me the truth that we don't have all the time in the world. There is an end for each of us. 

 So better tell the story now - - if that's what you want to do.


Divalicias said...

The stories drawn from our lives are the most interesting to me. I taught a class to child care providers on storytelling with young people. I had to get the participants believing in their own storytelling ability. I told them that they were all storytellers -- because they all had experiences to share and they just needed prompting. It just so happened that the class was on the day after the famous Louisa County Virginia earthquake. I just asked people to share what they were doing when the earthquake hit. The stories that came tumbling out of each and every person was worthy of performance! There was a spectrum of emotion,faith, humor,fear,resourcefulness. The storytellers all used great performance energy,inflection and gesture in the telling of their experiences. Listeners were riveted and responsive to each story. When we completed the round of telling, they all knew that they had a stockpile of stories within themselves to share with children.


Thanks for your comment! That must have been a wonderful class experience for you and for all the particiants. You were doing such important work by unleashing their appreciation for their own stories and their abilities to tell them. In a workshop I was teaching at a local high school I asked the students to interview their parents and grandparents by asking "where were they" questions - ( i.e. when JFK was shot, Pearl Harbor etc) The answers were marvelous stories but most important was the "new knowing" that developed between the students and their elders as a result of sharing the stories. Stories are such a powerful tool and a gift to the teller and to the listener.