Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On The Topic Of Memoir: How To Become An Orphan

By J.C. Lynne

*If you read my blog through or follow me on FB, you already have the background for this post.*

For the rest of you, I'll explain. No, let me sum up.

  • I've published two novels, various essays, and two short stories.
  • I make no secret I'm a writer and I frequently write about my family.
  • I've shared my author page, my blog links, and my publication notices with my parents regularly.
  • They've never read anything I've written. Oops, not true, my mother recently read my first novel after digging it out of a box and three years of dust.
I've been working on a memoir structured in short stories and essays since 2002. It was the first thing I allowed anyone to read and the responses blew me away. Over time, my fiction career has moved forward and the memoir hasn't seemed as critical. 

I'm a ten-year veteran writing teacher. I teach workshops on memoir. I've attended workshops on memoir. There are some important rules associated with the genre.

Accept the fact that some of your family will object.

It's a well-known fact that memoirs often upset families. I've said it over and over to writers, "Be prepared for the backlash." It's a running joke in my house that I wouldn't publish my completed memoir until my mother passed. I recently wrote a post about my mother's battle with dementia.

Not only does some of my family object, but it's become ugly.

Another rule of memoir, give folks the chance to read it first. 

I've said everything I write about to my parents' faces, perhaps more gently and with a care not to crush them. The thing about some people is they have selective hearing, particularly when what you are saying seems harsh or hurtful. I've given my parents every opportunity to read my work, they've never taken it. They only read Drama Mama because an irate family member cut and pasted it into an email. Never mind, I've been sending them the link to my blog since I started writing it. My mistake was not hand delivering it and saying, "This is about you." She would've definitely read it then. Maybe.

Your Truth is your perspective. There are many perspectives of an event.

I understand different people see things from unique viewpoints. My mother is a great revisionist. Her recollection of my childhood is vastly different than my recollection and not because of the change in perspective, but because she's rewritten her history in her mind and believes it wholeheartedly. 

Be certain you're emotionally ready for all of the above.

Because the likelihood is some of the family will never speak to you again, be sure you have a great support system in place. Often, your surrogate family is healthier and more loving than your blood relatives. Also, nothing brings the nasty out in a person like airing dirty secrets.

Remember that your Truth is your Truth. 

My angry, extended family insists they are better experts on my life than I am. Some of them I haven't seen in decades. Saying over and over that something isn't true or didn't happen is the refuge of denial. It doesn't change your reality. My detractors feel my parents are maligned and subverted by me, the "delusional, devil spawn with an active fantasy life." 

The irony is all of these people have skeletons of their own. The devil spawn accuser who forwarded my post to my parents traveled across the country because the aliens promised to pick her up in Baltimore.  I'm a good writer, but I can't make that shite up.

My parents have cut me off with a "How dare you" and a "Go to Hell." I'm okay with that and accept their anger. I may have said all of these things to their faces, but saying it publicly was the ultimate sin. It was the last toxic relationship in my life. I kept it going because they are my parents. 

This has all been a blessing in disguise because any fear I still harbored about my writing has evaporated. I may not publish my memoir, but not because I'm afraid. 

Write on, write boldly, and write well.


Patricia Stoltey said...

My parents' and grandparents' generations pretty much believed in keeping all the family secrets, but then, none of them were writers. I've avoided memoir so far....but I'm so tempted.

The tendency to rewrite our own histories as we get older might be universal and cross generations....there are a few things I remember differently than my adult children do. :D

JC Lynne said...

Oh, I love when my kids say things like, "Why didn't you ever....?" When I most assuredly did!

Aimerito said...

I've had the pleasure (poor choice of words) knowing your mother for 40+years. In the beginning the best I could describe her is that she was a wild card in the deck. I never knew what to expect. At times is was public (pick a place) it could be just plain scary. Through the years, I've watched the hatred and bitterness grow to astronomical proportions. If there was a world award for complete bitter nutcase, she would win the gold medal...every year. Your father is a whole other discussion (not much better) for another time.

The silver lining to all of this is you. We don't always become our parents. You are positive proof of that. You've become the complete and amazing woman that your mother could never be. And she's jealous of all your success.

My advice to you is run...and close the door behind you. Lakewood, California would be a good direction. There's a real family waiting for you...and there's complete shelter form the insanity.

Uncle Mark

JC Lynne said...

I'm touched by your comment because I know you like stealth mode on the interweb! I'm again bursting with ebullience at your love and support that has, and always will be, my benchmark for family. I can't express how much I love you both!

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