“All happy families are alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, says Tolstoy in the beginning of Anna Karenina. The same point is made nightly on the news: happy news doesn’t grip viewers like violent, frightening, or tragic coverage–preferably close to home. It follows, then, that an author who wishes to sell is well advised to choose a violent, frightening, or tragic subject.
When I began writing memoirs, I started out like many other people–I was writing to exorcise personal demons, to document my way through a dark and frightening land. I wrote thousands of pages of that journey.
And then I got pregnant, and everything went to hell. Or at least I thought so. But a funny thing happened on the way to Perdition. I kept having these wonderful, shining moments, moments that have come increasingly often as the years have passed.
When people learned I was a single mother the invariable reaction was a sympathetic face, and a pitying, “Oh, that’s so hard.”
But by then it didn’t feel hard. It felt scary sometimes, but mostly it good, and safe, and fulfilling and rewarding. I didn’t want to be rude, but accepting sympathy made me feel like a fraud. Yes, I faced hard times–but doesn’t every parent? Yes, single parenting carries its own set of challenges with it–but doesn’t any endeavor worth the effort?
I am not a fool. I watch the news. I read. I know that not every single parent’s experience is like mine. But neither is mine like theirs. And so I set aside the memoir that might “sell”–the story of sad, dark, and frightening times, and I chose to write my first memoir about something that quite likely will not sell–about my son and myself, and our boring, happy family.
The book doesn’t document every second of every day–or even every year. What it does document are the moments in our shared life that changed me–the moments when my son raised me, instead of the other way around. It holds those moments that I suppose most parents have, when they look at their children and feel grateful, awed, and humbled to have been chosen to share their lives.
It’s not all beer and skittles, of course. The challenges are there. But somehow it feels very right to have my first memoir be not about the pain and the dark, but about the joy of my life.