SURFACE STUFF

Some things in life are necessities. Even some things deemed “literary.” I happen to believe that one of these things is memoir. We crave a voice that shares a struggle–a passage, a complicated life, a major transformation–that we also may have experienced one way or another, yet, simultaneously, we seek a journey into uncharted territory. Sounds paradoxical, but perhaps, therein lies the appeal of books that somehow develop and express this magical combination.

As readers, we may be quietly thinking: I’ve been there, sort of, but how did the author get through such a trying situation … what can I learn, what kind of meaningful companionship might I discover in chapters that hopefully illuminate days of challenge or transcendence, or even ordinary moments — often the most revealing, the most important, of all, and where will this story take me, ultimately? Will it drop me off in new terrain: literally, figuratively, both? Will it provide answers to significant questions I’m also dwelling on these days? Or will it frustrate me just enough to propel me forward in a deeper search for all things universal, yet, mysteriously, personal?

We may dig into memoirs because it’s such a welcoming opportunity to consider unique vantage points. We are wise enough, in other words, to understand the importance of personal growth. So, perhaps, we seek it out in books that share a perspective, an orientation, we’ve never taken seriously. Not yet, anyway.

  • Taking off our blinders, we “see” more. And, with luck, we “see” differently.
  • Moving beyond assumptions, we are enlarged. If we allow it.

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“A good memoir is also a work of history, catching a distinctive moment in the life of both a person and a society.”
~ William Zinsser

A book, published in 2007 by Swallow Press/Ohio University Press in Athens, OH, called The Memoir and the Memoirist: Reading and Writing Personal Narrative, was written by Thomas Larson (author, teacher, journalist), and nearly everyone who wades seriously into the land of memoir reads this fascinating book. My notes indicate that I read it in the fall of 2012. But I want to read it again, now that I’ve completed a memoir — the 7-year project I’ve been writing about in SunnyRoomStudio this summer.

Why? Because I will comprehend it differently having personally lived through the many drafts of a book I doubted I would EVER complete (and of course, “complete” is a relative term). I will learn more, hear more, see more. If a book once resonated with me, I’m always willing to read it again … perhaps, more closely, more deliberately, than before. On page 187, for instance, Larson aptly points out: “In a culture of media clips and ‘instant communication,’ the memoir takes its meditative time to discover and deliver its message.” Isn’t that refreshing? He goes on to point out that authentic voices, such that we hope to find in well-written memoirs, may be the “only thing that penetrates” our “loneliness and fear… .” I agree.

  • The human connection is absolutely essential to our personal and planetary survival. And if this connection can be explored and strengthened via memoir, then indeed, we are talking not only about a literary necessity, but a life necessity, as well. 

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Don’t we learn what life is truly about by surviving our most challenging experiences? So giving back to the world via our insights seems like a good way to go (at least from a spiritual perspective). The interconnected nature of life makes memoir extremely relevant because we are all moving in the same direction. While various paths look different, these are surface distinctions primarily. The deeper realities apply to friends and strangers alike. So if a book delves into those deeper realities, I want to read it, don’t you?

The surface stuff is everywhere. It’s clogging up our brains and hearts like sugar in our bloodstreams. I try to avoid it when possible. For one thing, it’s extremely repetitive in nature and usually based on mainstream, commercialized values that have little to do with a spiritual quest. But, worst of all, the surface stuff distracts us from LIFE itself. And we are only left with clutter. Luckily, we have a choice. What will you choose? ~ dh

 ⇒ What memoir has recently compelled you to turn its pages? What did you learn or experience that made you feel grateful, even normal and understood? How did the book challenge you, comfort you, inspire you? Would you read it again, recommend it?

IF YOU HAPPEN to be looking for a memoir, the author mentioned above, Thomas Larson, published one in January of 2014 that you might enjoy.  Called The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease, I hope to get to it myself before long.

  • Thanks so much for being here. I’ll continue to focus on memoir — the genre, the path, the point of it all — in the weeks to come.
  • New post on July 31st. See you then!
  • Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place is a book about digging into our surroundings to unearth an organic and timeless wisdom. If you’re looking for inspiration or want to lean more about a landscape, a place, that helped me to form my spiritual roots, you may love this book. Enjoy.
  • When we value the journey itself, new realities are revealed amidst the old. 
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