I recently read through the “memoir” category of books in Kirkus online reviews to see a mixture of abuse and dysfunction, trauma and grief. These were just a few of the many descriptions among an emotional tumult of topics. Though my heart was heavy, I couldn’t relate to their experiences. And because of this, I saw what most other memoirs were and what mine wasn’t. Though I don’t like to categorize my memoir as what it isn’t, this difference was worth exploring.
When I wrote my book over 10 years ago, I didn’t know I’d have a publishable book; one I could call a memoir. I acknowledged the pressure to make it something other than an autobiographical montage. I felt my choice was limited how I would make it memoir because I saw and read that most were based on a single incident and I didn’t have a sole occurrence worthy of narration. I wondered if it was only those who experienced trauma and grief could write a memoir. So does that mean for me to call my book a memoir, I needed to comply with the single incident-based definition?
I questioned if my story was any less of one because I neither had a traumatic event nor single incident to write about. In answering, I defended my book because I believed there was a story among the unfolded pages I had written. And I also saw a common thread inherent in all memoirs.
In order to turnaround the “who cares” question, I needed to write to attract an audience. Writing something that people cared about drove my theme; a universal idea that is good and true.
What do I do with my experiences of self-discovery, divorced parents, a difficulty with fitting in and with finding a boyfriend, splintered relationships, college, and a struggle to find the right job? I had life events that weren’t extraordinary, tragic or terrible; they were, in fact, quite normal. I didn’t know anyone who couldn’t identify with similar challenges. And for these reasons, I believed I had an audience. I could show others, by my example, how I made meaning of my life events through my reflections. I could write how I managed it all and, in turn, how others could self-discover and navigate through similar challenges. Others could identify with my story because we shared relatable experiences. Our ability to relate to one another connects us.
“Memories, stories too, are often quiet, more echo than boom, more lingering sense than clamor, more subtext than headline,” writes Dorothy Rice.
My story is quiet. Finding home, a good place to be, through discovered connections, is annotated in subheading, is echoed in chapters, and is lingered in your soul. The narration is noiseless, soft, and draws up silence to draw out emotion, taking the reader to where I am. Sometimes it’s the subtle that stands like a lion with the loudest of roars, where silence is noticed in the noise, where stillness is detected in the turmoil.
I applaud those writers who dig deep to write their stories and who relive painful experiences. Exploring deeply personal moments and sharing them with the world is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. And in our vulnerability, we make meaning. It doesn’t matter if our moments are like a bolt of lightning or a low mumble in the distance; our memories speak truth and understanding. They speak of self-discovery, something humans share.
Memoirs find resolve and strength, peeling away layers of who we are, where adversity is meant to be overcome and when in the darkest hours we can see the light. And this is the common thread that memoirs share, including mine, the quiet one.