Stories bind us. Stories help is find our place in the world. ~ Mary Ann Kirkby,
I just responded to a LinkedIn Women's Memoir Writing group discussion and then realized this is a great blog post to end the year with.
Kathleen Pooler asked a great question: "How do you handle painful memories that are part of the life story you feel called to write?"
This question is very fresh in my mind, and it is not an easy one for any memoir writer. In my first book, Why I Left the Amish I was very honest, and there was fallout — none of my siblings would talk to me. (My parents are both deceased). A year ago, one of my sisters began communicating again.
Why I Left the Amish was about my childhood, when I had no choice but to endure abuse. I simply could not change the life I had. So, when I wrote this book, I could not shield my abusers from what they had done because it would only have added to the silence that shrouds all abuse. And these experiences were central to my life story — they literally helped to shape who I am. Breaking the silence was important in Why I Left the Amish.
My new book, Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman's Ties to Two Worlds, is about my young adulthood, when I could change my life situation — and I did by leaving home. But there were still conflicts with family members that are central to my story, and so I cannot avoid them. I have learned from reactions to my first book that there are ways of saying things that are less provocative and I can still stay true to my story. The editor at Herald Press, Valerie Weaver-Zercher, helped me to handle these situations with finesse. And whenever something negative about someone else was not central to the story, we omitted it.
Perhaps there is more to writing a memoir than writing down our memories. By examining our store of them, we gain new perspectives on this journey we call life. It's as if we go into the unconscious and light a candle down there in the darkness. By doing so, we can bring those memories to consciousness and reflect on how our experiences have shaped our world view.
Finding a balance between censoring our life stories so as not to hurt someone and "telling all" is difficult for memoir writers. None of us have the answers for anyone else, but if we feel called to writing our life stories for an audience, we must answer it for ourselves. It requires that we search our souls for the essence of our lives and stories.