“Politician Won’t Seek Higher Office,” the headline screamed. The reference was to an interview where I’d said I wasn’t moving my office to a 17th-floor high rise along with my fellow county commissioners. I hated elevators and worried about public access. The newspaper banner was catchy but it got in the way of the message.
The person who allows a journalist, a critic, or an interviewer to translate one’s thoughts takes a risk, akin to sharing a child’s bed with a gorilla. Power lies with the pen.
In a recent article, Town&Country explains why memoirs, rather than biographies, are on the rise. Why suffer the middleman? A person might be flattered to be the subject of a biographer’s attention, but in the interest of balance, those folks like to add the good, the bad, and the ugly into the mix. Memoirs needn’t bother with negatives. The Book of Me can be as glowing as a funeral eulogy.
Memoirs outsell biographies. (“The Book of Me,” Town&Country, Sept. 2020 pg. 62.) The public seems to prefer hearing from the subject without filters. I doubt one form of presentation is more accurate than the other. In both, facts get shifted through human bias. Nonetheless, those who write memoirs and biographies should strive for truth as a common goal. My upcoming memoir, Getting Lost to Find Home, grapples with more than one thorny question. For example, “If I weren’t me, would I like myself?”
The goal of a memoir isn’t to shed light on an individual’s progress. The goal is to illuminate potholes in the road that most of us face. The woman who purchases Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love isn’t biting her nails over the author’s failed marriage. She’s looking for answers about love, how to escape a harried life, or simply wanting to be transported for an hour before picking up the triplets from preschool. That communion between writer and reader requires honesty, the kind that opens a vein and allows it to bleed.
I don’t think of myself as an expert on memoirs. I’ve written only one. Even so, when I dropped a few veils as I wrote, I wanted to do more than entertain. Mostly, I hoped my readers would pause to wonder about themselves and the direction of their lives.