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.
There was a recent outcry amongst writers online in reaction to an article in the New York Times Book Review by Neil Genzlinger, which savaged the art of the memoir.
The piece started with fighting words —
“A moment of silence, please, for the lost art of shutting up. There was a time when you had to earn the right to draft a memoir, by accomplishing something noteworthy or having an extremely unusual experience or being such a brilliant writer that you could turn relatively ordinary occurrences into a snapshot of a broader historical moment. Anyone who didn’t fit one of those categories was obliged to keep quiet. Unremarkable lives went unremarked upon, the way God intended.”
Now, I’m not immune to a good memoir-writing joke. It seems as if every other blogger I know has the dream of expanding their story of getting beaten up by Joey McCallister in third grade as a book proposal. But, in reality, my views on the importance of memoirs is quite different than those of Mr. Genzlinger’s.
I love the personal. And I think it is the personal that ends up being passed down from generation to generation. It is the personal that touches us and has the most impact.
I recently had a conversation with a friend about how he uses social media. He was trained as a journalist, and while not as extreme as Mr. Genzlinger, is not a fan of the incessant personal chatter on blogs and Twitter where women write about their “cats.” In his eyes, the personal is junk food. Discussion of news and politics is the real meal.
I disagree with him. I follow a lot of “media” people on Twitter, and while I love their opinions on current events, I see THEM as the “fast food” — tasty at first, but with no lasting nutritional value.”
Consider the recent revolution in Egypt. For several days, my Twitter stream was filled with tweets talking about the students and the activists. It was a historic event. But like most news stories, it played more like entertainment for us. Once Mubarak resigned, we all moved on to talking about the Grammy Awards.
Have you noticed that every day there seems to be a new “trend” on Twitter. I think, for many of us, myself included, we feel obligated to mention, or at least understand these trends, so as to seem as if we aren’t asleep at the wheel, or irrelevant in our media-obsessed society.
How many of you immediately Googled “Mumford and Sons” during the Grammy Awards, just so you didn’t feel like your pop musical history peaked with Duran Duran?
Most of these news and pop culture references are not very important. It isn’t that the events aren’t important in themselves, but our mention of them is for our own purposes, not for the sake of history. We are sending the message to the others that we are not stupid and went to college. We are reminding the others that we have an opinion on what is going on in Egypt and who won the Grammy Awards, so you don’t have to worry about inviting us to a cocktail party and embarrassing you in front of your friends. After we get that across, the topic is not relevant anymore, so the subject is quickly dropped. Very few people are talking about the uprisings in Bahrain or Iran… or even Egypt anymore! Of course, we WILL do that when it starts trending again.
Perhaps this post is not about social media, politics, or even writing. Maybe it is about getting older, and memory.
The older you get, the more historic events and personalities you can remember, so you begin to notice the repetive nature of the news cycle. Justin Bieber is the David Cassidy is the Bobby Darren of the previous generation. Remember that Billy Joel song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” where he spits out one historic event after another, important events that are hardly remembered by the next generation. Of course Watergate and the Cuban Missile Crisis and Monica Lewinsky were big events of that time, something we all talked about, but do we remember any of those conversations? Can you remember any of the tweets with the #Egypt hashtag from last week? Most of the tweets were re-tweets or recaps of Breaking News from TV. We write about these events for the same personal reasons we write about our lunch — we want to put our stamp on the event, to say “we were there,” even if we are home sitting in our living rooms in Ohio.
While political tweets are deemed important, most are forgotten the next day. Because it is just talk. But I remember writing of a personal nature. Because that was lived. When I meet a blogger in person, I can quote her post about her mother dying, or when she lost a child. Or the funny story when she finally cleaned the kitchen! I relate to those stories. Those moments are so universal, and so specific to the individual, that the imagery becomes the most lasting. We can get more from reading “The Diary of Anne Frank” than a Pulitzer-Prize winning history of Nazi Germany. This is how our brains work.
Perhaps this is why a critic like Neil Genzlinger seems so scared of personal memoirs. He is a trained writer with a job talking about important “stuff.” Maybe the memoir is considered too feminine, in a patriarchal world, where a person’s importance is tied to their impact on history. What does a SAHM have to offer the world in a memoir?
Actually, a lot.
In the year 2211, the next generation is going to care more about how the typical person lived their daily life, and how it reflected on the times, than on anyone’s opinion of the long-forgotten news story of the day.
via Publishers Weekly: In the tradition of the tell-all, screw the loyalty, backstabbing, I wanna write a book and tell the truth now that I have a book deal, even though I was too wimpy to do so when I was there sucking up to the Man, tradition of “What Happened — Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” by Bush spokesperson Scott McClellan, “Behind the Oval Office” by Clinton aide/prostitute-lover Dick Morris, and countless other memoirs by bloggers lucky enough to obtain impossible-to-get glamour jobs in law, publishing, and the entertainment fields, who then turn around and betray the trust of their former bosses and co-workers, comes Neil Kramer’s new book, “Behind the Blogosphere: What Other Bloggers Really Tell Me.”
In his three years of blogging, Mr. Kramer, or “Neilochka from Redondo Beach” as he was known online, kept backup copies of every IM conversation, Twitter, email, and blog comment he was ever involved in — right on his computer in his office in Chicago, discussing the intimate details of the lives of his “blogging friends.”
“I carefully created this “Neilochka” personality,” said Mr. Kramer, “using the the Britten-Margolis Personality Quadrant, making sure that this character seemed open, friendly, and sensitive to the needs of others, especially to that of women. In fact, one of my first posts was about “Neilochka” vehemently insisting that women who are size 14-16 were just as sexy to me as the truly attractive women who are size 0. And my readers believed it! Combined with other little details, like an unstable marriage where my wife was completely at fault, humorous jokes stolen from obscure Japanese comedies, and hints that I was pretty well-endowed, was enough to get women to tell me anything!”
And tell me they did. In complete confidence, they talked to Neilochka, thinking him safe, like the gay friend in a chick-lit novel. After three years of blogging, he KNOWS everything.
And now YOU will too. In Neil Kramer’s new book, “Behind the Blogosphere: What Other Bloggers Really Tell Me,” the author takes no prisoners. Nothing is off-limits.
Which bloggers don’t look like their photos AT ALL because they always use a high angle to hide the double chin?
Who are the blogging perverts, sending “Neilochka” photos of their bras — and worse? (including some men!)
What anti-depressant each blogger is taking, and who has completely lost their libido because of it?
What “really” goes on behind the closed doors of Room 1243 at the Westin St. Francis Hotel during BlogHer?
Who is the quiet, shy “cat blogger” in Toronto who has slept with every male blogger east of the Mississippi, and has made sculptures of their privates which she sells on a secret Etsy site?
Which female blogger never has anything to wear for her high-profile job as a social media specialist because her “wonderful” husband insists on wearing her clothes around the house, stretching the fabric?
Which mommyblogger actually thinks her new baby is “sort of ugly?”
Which “Momocrat” is really voting for McCain and thinks her other friends are “liberal pussies” who hate America?
Which “good friend” of Dooce said “her favorite blog is “Citizen of the Month,” but Heather “Dooce” is so insecure she would never say so publicly in fear of losing her own “standing?”
And so much more.
Soon, at a bookstore near you.
Remember: Tomorrow is “Write Like the Opposite Sex Day.” If you so choose, write your post as the opposite sex and then tell me about it in the comments. I’ll put up a link. Hell, I’ll even give you until the weekend.
And if you comment on my blog tomorrow, make sure you do so as the opposite sex.