I’ve been thinking a lot about memoirs lately, and why people write them. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about why I feel driven to write them. And I do. But why?
When I first began exploring my life in words–the precursor to memoir for me–I did it in conjunction with therapy. The theory was that in writing about my past, I was acknowledging it, dealing with it, and ultimately, moving past it. Writing as catharsis.
When I was pregnant I started another journal, this time not to forget, but to remember. As I recall, I began it by saying that I was writing because I wanted to hold onto every moment of the experience. That journal wasn’t about forgetting at all; it was about remembering. Writing as memorial.
The odd thing is that both approaches worked. Writing that first journal was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and as I wrote I laughed and cried. And then I forgot. I have an extraordinary memory. Writing that journal taught me just how extraordinary it really is. I captured incredible detail.
And then, having locked it safely on paper, I began to forget. I read that journal and I know those things are true, but I know it in a rather distant, “Oh, yeah…that did happen…” way. The sights, smells, conversations–and pain–of those days has been captured on paper. It no longer fills my present.
Likewise, my second journal worked. I wrote to capture the experience of pregnancy, and of motherhood. And I did it. I read that journal and I find myself experiencing details that would otherwise be lost–the image of my newly-born son flying over my belly and into my arms while the doctor fights to halt the blood pouring from my body; the unmistakable, unique scent of a newborn; the wonder of lying on my bed with my son beside me, watching my Siamese cat curl around him, purring. I wrote that to remember, and it works.
And so the question, as I begin the process of writing a memoir: Am I writing for catharsis, or am I writing to capture? How about you?