I had an autobiography. I wanted a memoir.
After years of chronicling my life experiences from girlhood to teens to adulthood, I had an autobiography. However, “One’s autobiography does not a memoir make!” I proclaimed in my essay, “I Called You a Memoir” published in the Magic of Memoir. I shared what I most remembered from my girlhood–white anklet socked feet fitting snuggly in red Mary Janes, wearing a navy dress, patterned in tiny white polka dots with an appliqué of paint brushes and an artist’s palette in primary colors at the hem–while posing for a photo on my first day of kindergarten. And I remembered marking my teen years with shaving my legs and applying makeup while undisturbed in the private confines of the upstairs bathroom. I accepted my adulthood in college, my first job at Leo Burnett advertising and subsequent jobs in advertising before moving on to work for a global bank. My chronology mirrored a timeline characteristic of an autobiography. I was okay with writing about memories bursting with experiences as I met people, moved to new places, took on different jobs. I was satisfied knowing my memory served me well as I documented details bearing witness to my advancing years. But could I be okay knowing my writing would not be bound within front and back covers, reproduced and sold to the public? For the time being, yes.
Jane Friedman, https://janefriedman.com/memoir-wont-sell/, offers common problems why a memoir won’t sell. She gives “Your memoir is really an autobiography,” as one reason that most memoirs should be limited to telling a story about a specific period of time. Phases of your life may be referenced but the story should not be defined by your birth. A memoir is not your life story. I thought back to book reviewers who headline “autobiography” in their columns only to see “a memoir” stated on the front cover of the reviewed book. A reviewer from the Chicago Tribune referenced Bruce Springsteen’s book, “Born To Run” as an autobiography, but according to Bruce, his writing is a memoir. Though lines of distinction between autobiography and memoir appear blurry, there is a line.
With every rewrite, critique and another rewrite of my memoir, I worked deeper into conflicts as answers to my questions were revealed. A common theme of finding home and discovering connections despite the many disconnections I faced were throughout. I noted reflections and garnered takeaways. My autobiography evolved out of a record of my life and into a narrative with a beginning and an end.
I could not have made sense of my relationships, the places I lived or the jobs I worked unless I first recorded it, retracing my steps as if to follow a journey to see where it lead me. Later in my writing I saw my life in a narrative, a story, a memoir.
Pages of my memoir will be bound, kept whole by a front and back cover and ready to be shared in June 2018.