Writing a memoir is fashionable these days and because self-publishing is inexpensive, many of them land on Amazon beside Ernest Hemingway’s Moveable Feast and Winston Churchill’s autobiography about his participation in the Boer War. To be honest, most of them read like calendars as the authors drag us through one event after another in deadly sequence without a theme to hold them together.
A life is not a catalogue and a memoir should reflect more than the fact that a person was born, grew up and grew old. A life well lived should provide insights which touch us.
Sue Bender’s memoir, Plain and Simple invites us to examine our lives as she writes about hers, a time spent as an outsider among the Amish. She doesn’t recount the day-to-day existence with grueling accuracy but chooses bits of observation and pieces them together as if she were assembling a quilt. The result is a narrative that is beautiful as well as informative. Rather than take the reader through an entire day, for example, she focuses our attention on a single afternoon as she sits shelling peas with a number of Amish women. The author marvels at the way they treat this menial task with respect, using it as a contemplation of their blessings. Humility is a common thread throughout their lives. Even the dolls the women sew for their children have no faces so that no judgment can be made about which is prettier.
After months of being deprived of modern conveniences, including electricity, it’s a cultural shock when Bender returns home to Berkley, California and is Invited to a dinner party where the guests include a number of prominent people, writers and playwrights. Having been absent for a while, she is shocked to discover she is no longer comfortable in her old skin.
Surrounded by these famous people, I daydreamed about the faceless dolls who were trying to tell me something I was still unable to hear. I knew that part of me would always want to be a star. But this never-ending pecking order would never give me what I was seeking. It was still a world based on deficiency, a world of ‘if only.’ No matter how much you acquired or accomplished, something would always been missing. (Plain and Simple by Sue Bender, Harper Collins, 1989, pg. 83.)
Unskilled hands might have typed, “I came home from the Amish farm and went to a party where I met some fellow artists.” That would have been true, of course. But Bender gives us more. She invites us into her thoughts. That makes the reading memorable and a memoir.
(Courtesy of www.speedwellforge.com)