“The more memoirs I read, the more lessons I learn, first about the literary form, second about other people, and third about myself. These benefits intertwine to form one of the best systems of self-development I know.” - Jerry Waxler, founder of Memory Writer’s Network
Playwright Gore Vidal, in his own memoir Palimpsest, writes “a memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.” It (memoir) is more about what can be gleaned from a section of one’s life than about the outcome of the life as a whole.”
Reading memoirs over the past few weeks has really given me the chance to reflect on my own life. I have, surprisingly, learned a lot about my life, by both reading and writing personal narratives. I have learned that, compared to Susanna Kaysen, I've got my transition from young adult to adult pretty well under control (she wrote a pretty cool book that eventually got made into a movie - you can read more about her here). I have also learned that, compared to the lives of most of the people whose memoirs we read in class, I lead a very boring, normal, and above all else safe life. However, I also came to realize, by writing my own personal narrative story, that anything can become a story. I wrote about the end of my childhood, but rather than write about something like bombs falling on my village or even something as concrete as a bat mitzvah, I wrote about Harry Potter. Yes, compared to a lot of stories of war and death and destruction, the final movie in an epic saga spanning a decade would barely be on anybody's radar. But above all else, what I learned from all of the personal narratives in this class was that absolutely anything can be a story.
The thing about memoirs is that they're a story the way the author sees it. By reading memoirs, you shouldn't be expected to glean entire truths. This goes back to the beginning of junior year, when we looked at The Things They Carried and discussed the difference between happening-truth and story-truth. In case you're not sure which The Things They Carried is, don't worry. I don't either. But this lovely human does a very good job of explaining it (there's a link there you can click on). The point is, memoirs are all about story-truth. They tell stories that may or may not be true, that may or may not be entirely made up to convey a certain message. Memoirs and autobiographies exist separately for exactly that reason. Autobiographies, like it says in the second quote, are for facts, or the truth of the thing as it happened (happening-truth). Memoirs are for the outcome of the stories, or story-truth. You can't expect to glean whole happening-truths from story-truths.
Now I have a bit of a problem. I want to write about the revelations I've had, but I already did. I learned that I am a very boring, very privileged, very normal person who won't be writing a proper personal narrative book anytime soon. Or probably ever. I really don't think I'm suited to a memoir (although if I did, it would probably look like this, because I am an incredibly awkward person). There's simply nothing to write about. Another thing I came to realize (or re-realize) was that story-truth and happening-truth are not the same, and are embodied in memoirs and autobiographies respectfully. This has been my reflection on memoirs - a sort of memoir of my own, since memoirs are all reflecting on singular events. Well, sort of. It doesn't make a difference, I stand by my metaphor.