Recently I participated with thirteen other authors and poets in a local book fair. I was inspired to learn about their books and the authors behind them like a match to a flame, reigniting my desire to write memoir. But one writer’s question made me realize a memoir shouldn’t be labeled by its tragedy but rather for the reasons why it was written.
“Hi, I’m Nancy,” I said, interrupting this well-published and awarded author as she rummaged through a filled bag plopped on the floor next to her.
“Yes, hello,” she said. She remained seated behind a table adorned with a short stack of her book and a stand with the book’s cover facing me. I remember little further said other than telling her I was a memoir writer.
“And what’s your tragedy? she asked, her attention maintaining on her bag while shifting in her seat.
I chuckled to myself. Dry wit, I see.
And then I reconsidered.
Tragedy? With an internal sigh I thought how this sounded so negative. My story wasn’t necessarily about a single bad experience.
“Not a tragedy at all. In fact, it’s a feel-good story with an ending just the same,” I told her. I felt defiant and because I contradicted her assumption, perhaps she’d give me a chance at conversation.
But she continued to ignore me. A long pause begged for my exit.
I walked away.
I returned to my table and sat with mixed emotions contemplating her question. Maybe she wasn’t being humorous, but sarcastic. Was it her ego that prompted the off-putting remark? Was she cranky and didn’t want to be there? Or was she truly being serious? I wondered why memoir writers write their stories. Do memoirists want to give voice to their tragedy or misfortune? Do they feel unexplained like an anomaly and because of this they need to share a story no one else has experienced? Is it a need to let go of a deep, personal pain by making it public? All of the above? Maybe none.
My first reaction to her question was to turn a negative feeling to something positive. I knew I didn’t want my memoir to be referenced by a horrible experience but by a purpose for telling my story.
The question should be why I wrote a memoir. I wanted to write a story to show that we can connect in ways that bring us back to a good place in our lives, and how my connection with a birch tree helped me to do that. And through my example and message of hope, I wish others discovered connections to good places in their lives, to home.
Unfortunately, the only tragedy I saw that morning was my inability to connect with an author to buy her book. But a question made me realize how memoir is dependent upon the importance of meaning in story and not leading it in question about a tragedy.