How many people do you really know well? How many of those people “get you?” It’s an interesting question, I think. Don’t we do a lot of shadow dancing in life? Interacting in the superficial sense of things. Relating to people, even relatives, who may as well be perfect strangers.
I gave this some thought, decided that conversations have been condensed by many of us to save time. When did you last sit down and talk with someone, at length? Do you really know the people in your life? And how many of them want to “know” you and not just “change” you?
Perhaps that is why I enjoy reading a good memoir. It’s a way to get to know someone. A chance to go beyond surface chatter. Even if I’ll never meet the person, after reading an autobiography or a memoir, I have a sense for the author’s internal world. Often more than I will ever know about people I encounter each day or even at family reunions.
I also discover a great deal of wisdom in most memoirs.
But, maybe of greater importance, I am reminded that the human journey belongs to all of us — the details being the only difference. If we haven’t experienced one thing, we’ve experienced something else … and while things may look drastically different on the surface, the underlying dynamics are much the same. Certainly, there are some people who have had a “limited” number of experiences — maybe only “safe” experiences or lives of great routine. And, then, it can be difficult to find common ground — the reference points being so vastly different.
Like the young cottonwood tree, some of these people may have a narrow view on life. They may lack compassion for those who have had more or different experiences. They may believe their simple, safe lives are the only way to live.
But with every life experience we are given the gift of knowledge and wisdom. We are given the opportunity to grow. Spiritually, emotionally, intellectually. No longer trapped on the surface of life, we begin to live our lives on a deeper level. Our priorities shift. Our values mature. Our lifestyles take on greater meaning … becoming a source of peace. And we no longer buy into the social and cultural conformity that surrounds us.
We are free to bloom in ways that are important to us.
So if you haven’t read a memoir lately, you might consider one. They are great reminders of the many facets of struggle and survival that exist in the world. And they allow you to “meet” someone with life wisdom to share.
If you haven’t had a varied number of experiences in life … if you feel like you aren’t growing or challenging yourself to grow … tune in to what others are doing and sharing. It’s a big world out there. And living in a bubble is rarely a wise choice.
For ideas on memoir (or other kinds of books), my Books & Authors page here in SunnyRoomStudio provides a few ideas.
- What am I reading?
Recently, I read Devotion by Dani Shapiro. Excellent! Dani writes about her strong desire to better understand her spiritual roots, because she wanted to figure out exactly what she believed about her religious upbringing, God, and spirituality … all in the context of her adult life with a young child.
And I read The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History by Jonathan Franzen. (You can find my recent review on Shirley Showalter’s blog @ Franzen’s Long Summer.)
A few months ago I read Comfort: A Journey Through Grief by novelist Ann Hood. A powerful and important book about losing a young child, her daughter. If you don’t think you understand what it’s like to lose someone close to you–a child, in particular–I strongly recommend this book. It offers an opportunity to grow in empathy, insight, and compassion.
Not long ago, I also read Susan Pohlman’s memoir (she was a guest here in SunnyRoomStudio; just go to the Studio Guests page on the top menu to find Susan), Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Home. A wonderful book about picking up the pieces of a struggling family and putting them back together, this is a book you will love.
Before that, I read This Is Not The Story You Think It Is … A Season of Unlikely Happiness by Laura Munson. A book about the courage to deal with a difficult challenge, Laura will inspire you in many ways. I also enjoyed Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx. Laura writes from Montana; Annie writes from Wyoming. If you enjoy reading about life in the west, you’ll love these books.
But this is just a quick mention of the memoirs I’ve read in the past few months. And if I forgot one or two, my apologies.
One memoir I want to read this year was just released. Written by Cheryl Strayed, her book is called Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail.
- “No one can write like Cheryl Strayed. Wild is one of the most unflinching and emotionally honest books I’ve read in a long time. It is about forgiveness and grief and bravery and hope. It is unforgettable.” ~ Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle
Another recent guest in SunnyRoomStudio, Jen Knox, wrote a memoir called Musical Chairs. It’s a book I plan to read soon.
“This true tale of grit, survival and eventual rebirth, of the psyche is engaging and inspirational, even to a small-town girl like me.” ~Gretchen Phillips, Pearson Education P
I also want to read Leaving the Hall Light On. Written by Madeline Sharples, her memoir is about her son Paul’s 7-year struggle with bipolar disease and his suicide in September 1999. Madeline will be my guest on May 4th, so please come by to meet her then.
Memoir isn’t narcissistic.
It is excavating the self to illuminate the human condition.
~ Cheryl Strayed
Blog by DazyDayWriter @ work in SunnyRoomStudio: all rights reserved.