the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Stuck on Page Ten of My Memoir

I’ve read a couple of terrific memoirs written by YOU over the last few months. I’ve enjoyed them tremendously. But something about the genre makes me uncomfortable, particularly when I wonder if have the ability to write my own memoir. Most of these memoirs revolve around a personal journey. Something dramatic happens to the writer, and through hard work and the meeting of mentors, he comes out stronger by the end. The memorist may have more gray hairs by the final page, but he is wiser.

I am stuck on page ten of my memoir. I was born. I went to school. I went to work. Something dramatic happened to me that set me off my path. I need to crawl out of the darkness and become a wiser man.

Without that wisdom, I can’t continue my memoir.

And by memoir, I’m not really talking about a memoir.

The problem is that I don’t feel any wiser than I did last year. I can’t offer you any profound insights into your life. I haven’t overcome my obstacles. Has there ever been a memoir about someone’s life being the same as the year before?

Maybe we can only care about third parties when they have truly overcome their “hardship,” whatever it is, no matter how small. We hate the drug addict face down in the alley, but praise him when he overcomes his addiction. The Neo-Nazi disavows his views and gets applause on a talk show. But wasn’t he the same guy who spat on you the month earlier? But, of course, he has changed, and we cheer change. He has learned his lesson. That is the template. We must learn to overcome our bad childhood, a death, a divorce, the losing of a job.

I am still in the “IS” state, the lesson unlearned. I can’t write that memoir until I overcome this “IS” and turn it into a “WAS.” Then I can write about my “NEW IS,” and move past page ten of my memoir.

And by memoir, I’m not really talking about a memoir.


  1. V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios

    I love memoirs and biographies, but I don’t think they’re about “overcoming” as much as they are about coming to terms with choices made and not made, and a life lived as “is.”

    I would say the market of a good memoir isn’t necessarily “wisdom” or “change” but “insight.”

  2. V-Grrrl

    I meant the “mark of a good memoir.” Not “market. ” My fingers go on autopilot typing sometimes.

  3. Megan

    I’ve considered writing a book about my whole journey with Mackenzie, but I’ve never really seen it as something to be overcome. It is and I deal with it and move on.

    I think I need someone to sponsor me ($$) for a year so I can sort this out and write a memoir.

    Anyone? Anyone?

  4. Jack

    The wisdom that some people share isn’t really wise and it isn’t always earned. Don’t let the movies fool you into thinking otherwise.

  5. erika

    im stuck on page 63 of my second memoir. in my story, there is no happy ending, no great insight gained, nothing overcome. it’s just a painted picture of a part of society, which many young people pass through. it isnt so much of a learning or journey, more of a perspective that is captured. sort of like a time capsule.

  6. Genevieve

    I’ve generally been keeping sort of quiet on your site these days, but you’ve touched on something that I feel really passionate about here, and I can’t resist.

    I’m sort of over the assumption that one must be endure terrible hardship or fight evil demons or have any sort of dramatic catharsis to be an interesting and important person. Not just because I myself am someone who does not fit into that category, though I’m sure that must play a part.

    But I really do believe that ordinary people are fascinating. Messed up people whose lives feel unbearably important to them. I mean, isn’t that everyone? I don’t think you have to have gone through some major trauma and come out all wise on the other side of it in order to have something worth saying.

    I think a really good (non) memoir has more to do with insight into and appreciation of the details of your life, no matter how mundane. I’ve read some pretty amazing pieces of writing about a morning spent in bed, or an awkward exchange with a stranger or, you know, WHATEVER, that deeply moved me. If there is meaning to be found in any situation, it can speak to an audience. In my humble opinion.

    • Rufus Shepherd

      Most people are making footsteps on a sandy dune anyway. A memoir should be written while you are a young man and can still believe the lies you tell about who you are.

  7. Stasha

    We are putting too much pressure on growth and resolution here. Any European movie I can think of starts, tells a story, ends. The beauty of sharing the story is to let the reader learn from it. Search the answer, understand it in their own way.
    So go, write! And if it is only 10pages long, moms like me will apriciate it, specially if you publish it in electronic form. But something tells me, it will be a lovely, thick novel and a real page turner. Or scroller…

  8. Jane

    I suppose that if a person gets their arm chewed off by a shark and then overcomes their loss to find happiness and success, then the equation of hardship + overcoming = a good read (or a WAS) probably applies.

    I don’t think every life story, written or not, is as simple as that, though. I think it’s probably more common that people overcome many things, many times. No one big epiphany, no stunning victory, no winning lottery, no snap-happy ending — just growing up, becoming more aware, putting events into perspective. Over and over and over again.

  9. The Honourable Husband

    Hey, Neil. Great big cyber-hug to you.

    Let’s not talk about the story arc of your life. It doesn’t reach the level of drama your sense as a trained screenwriter demands. You’ll never pen The Miracle Worker. Big deal.

    Let’s talk about not feeling wiser than a year ago.

    Right now, you live in emotional limbo.

    You’ve lost a marriage. Your separation from Sophia is official, but it still feels like she is the person to whom you are closest in your life. You’ve lost two more people you loved and respected. Perhaps you don’t know how much you should mourn them when, in truth, they are no longer part of your family? Living in your mother’s apartment is, at least in theory, temporary. But it mightn’t be. Have you negotiated a new, roomie-to-roomie, adult-to-adult relationship with her? Maybe you’re between writing projects, and it worries you.

    Flux. It’s what’s for dinner.

    For people like us, who perhaps have clocked up half a century or so, that’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s no order or sense to it. We ought to have sorted out our lives by now. But just when we think we’re all-grown-up, life throws us curve-balls. And we’re rootless again. We feel insecure. At a time of change in life, that’s unavoidable.

    Wisdom is what peace-of-mind looks like from the outside. You haven’t taken any wisdom from the events of the last year, because you’ve not yet brought them to closure. You haven’t made your peace with them.

    (“Closure”? I sound like a cheap self-help book.)

    An ideal life mixes the thrill of the new and different with the comfort of stability. We develop wisdom from reflection on life’s events, and that can come only when we enjoy the latter. It’s hard to reflect without peace and order in your life. It’s hard to sail the ship when you’ve let go of the tiller.

    Did you rely on Sophia for emotional stability? Did she provide peace and order in your life? Will you need to find that peace and order in yourself, now?

    You’ve posted a lot about man’s desire for closeness to a woman, to complete him, to fire him up, to give him the passion and energy that propels him through life. As a gay man, I can diss you straight guys for this habit of mind and heart. Find the energy in yourself, in your own spirit. Then you’ll become a better partner, husband, and (dare I say it) citizen of the planet.

    Closure, Neil. You can’t force it. But don’t resist it, either.

  10. surcey

    What Husband said up there is interesting. I’ll tell you about my journey to insight. It took a dramatic event in my family to force me to seek immediate outside help. I ended up at Al Anon, where, it turns out, you help yourself before you can help your loved one. (I have problems? Me?) I am 35 years old and never before have I truly analyzed myself to the point of applying principles of behavior/thought change in my life. The proverbial light has, indeed, turned on, however dimly it currently shines. All of this is to say you might want to investigate a journey of community therapy for whatever ails you. I don’t know enough about you to suggest which program, but the beginning of your wisdom might lie there.

  11. unmitigated me

    What I like about the style of your memoir, Neil, is the light you cast on things we do without thinking. You take the absurd and make it lovable, and sometimes take things we love and expose the absurdity. Maybe this is just a “stop and look around” moment in your memoir.

  12. Deer Baby

    I like Honourable Husband’s comment. I think he’s cut to the chase, as usual.

    I went on a Robert McKee story structure screenwriting course once. It was all inciting incidents and upside down triangles and narrative arcs and spine. (spine I never understood).
    I think you have some turning points coming up. I’m sure you’ll figure them out for the best.

    Sorry to go off on a tangent. I think anyone’s life can warrant a memoir. They don’t need to be misery lit or a tale of triumph over adversity to be interesting or to tell you about the human condition.

  13. sputnik1

    Neil, just start writing, and quit analyzing ahead of time! I have felt disconnected from the world for a long time and only since I started my memoirs have I started feeling reconnected. I have a huge legal pad idea-list. I just write them as they come to mind, and one essay usually begets a few more. At this point I am not making any effort to consciously organize. I’ve no intention to make a coherent story but will certainly go back after the bits are written and see if there’s something I can make of it. The very point of it is the incoherence of my life. It does not have an artificially tidy thread. I liked Husband’s idea of “new/stable.” The thread through my life has been that NOTHING was ever stable except the “Flux: it’s what’s for dinner” fact. The memoirs comfort me because my crazy past is the only thing that can BE stable; that’s the only place I’m going to get any stability. Here’s one of my favorite quotes, from Tennyson’s “Ulysses”:

    I am a part of all that I have met;
    Yet all experience is an arch wherethro
    Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
    For ever and for ever when I move.

  14. Jane Gassner

    I’m not going to read through all the comments, so if someone already said this–well, great minds think alike.

    There’s a difference between what makes a memoir saleable and what makes it readable. The first is dependent on the story arc and, yes, that does need conflict and resolution. The second depends on the quality of the prose: can you make the quotidian in your life come alive just by the way you have with words. My answer to that for you specifically, Neil, is “yes”. You can–and you do.

  15. Missives From Suburbia

    Well, I think you know what that next “chapter” looks like, because you said it in your post. It’s the “new is”. The funny thing about new ises (that’s plural, right?) is that they don’t just show up one day. Rather, you look back one day and realize you’re IN the new is. Even better, new ises show up, one after another. You’ll get there. Husband said it all very well.

  16. teahouseblossom

    Maybe life is what happens when you’re stuck on page 10 of your memoir.

  17. Rufus Dogg

    Your book title: All I Really Need to Know I learned Before Page 10

  18. carma

    this is exactly why I can’t write a memoir. there is nothing gritty or interesting about a girl who grew up in Suburban Jersey who has done nothing remarkable.

    See I just saved you from reading another memoir.

    Best of luck with your’s. You are good at embellishing. You do it all the time – you are well on your way my friend!

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