Writing a Memoir is a Mythic Event

Writing a memoir may be compared to a mythic event. The stories of Prometheus stealing fire from the Olympian gods and of Adam and Eve come to mind.

Why did Prometheus do it?

Well, he did it so humans would have fire for warmth, nutrition and for making things. In the myth of Prometheus, the titan is aware that without fire we humans would not achieve our potential. Making things is a distinction of humankind that has set us apart from other creatures.

The gods, of course, had abrogated the making things to themselves. If humans could make things, then would they not be as gods? (Some modern Christian theologians maintain that creation continues to happen via the agency of humans.)

The Olympians however did not want to share this prerogative and would not forgive Prometheus for stealing their fire. He was chained to Mt. Caucasus and his liver was eaten away every day. (The only thing that would save him was a god forfeiting his divinity in exchange for Prometheus’s freedom.)

An analogous story–also from the Mediterranean basin–appears in the Judeo-Christian tale of Adam and Eve who ate from the tree of good an evil. The tree of good and evil is identifiable as consciousness. Ingesting the fruit would make them as gods. Like Prometheus, the two paid a great price for daring to access divine prerogatives. (And like Prometheus, the two and their descendants could be redeemed only by a god exchanging his divinity for their humanity.)

Ok, how is this like writing a memoir? Writing a memoir is nothing if not daring to access a divine prerogative–consciousness of your life or of the life of your subject.

In writing a memoir, you act as a god, accessing knowledge of good and evil, you become a maker, a creator.

There can be a terrific price to pay to access the fire of consciousness. First of all is the difficulty of creating. It’s not easy to sit down time after time to focus on your story. We all have a great reluctance to do so–we procrastinate, we doubt ourselves, we silence ourselves in so many ways. To succeed, one must struggle with the jealous gods within who would keep us in ignorance, far from the fire of the knowledge of good and evil of our lives.

Then there is the challenge of speaking our truth–whether it is big or little. We will garner criticism for speaking out about ourselves. We will be cast away from groups, cast from the eden of unconsciousness.

Anyone who writes is, at times, tortured with memories of loss and grief, of deception and abandonment. It is impossible to live in the imaginary world of a memoir without having to struggle with one’s demons, the black bird pecking away at the liver.

Myths are stories that explain psychic processes. When you are writing a memoir, you are engaging in a profound psychic process  of re-creating a world. It is a wonderful experience but let the myths enlighten you as to the price you will have to pay.

Keep writing!

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About Denis Ledoux

Denis Ledoux began helping people to turn their memories into memoirs in 1988. Denis was named Lifewriting Professional of the Year by the Association of Personal Historians in 1996. Today, Denis is a writer, educator, teacher, autobiography co-author, memoir-writing coach, editor and publisher. He directs The Memoir Network, an international group of memoir professionals who use his method and materials to help people write lifestories. Denis also offers writing tele-classes and leads memoir writing tele-groups.
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2 Responses to Writing a Memoir is a Mythic Event

  1. Terry Lee says:

    Denis,

    I apprecieate your encouragement. I have typed about 30 pages so far and I am as far as College. The writing is not easy. The stories come easily and when I re-read I find something to add or change. I know that there is a theme emerging but I can’t put my finger on it yet. I find your comments about english teachers interesting. I have enlisted my 33 yoa daughter as editor. She is a sixth grade english teacher. Of our three daughters I always felt she understood me best. We will see how that goes.

    It is a very interesting learning experience. I have not had much success contacting some of my old friends to discuss growing up together. I know they could clarify and add value. Any ideas you have would be appreciated.

    Thanks again, Terry Lee atlee2@gmail.com

    • Terry,
      You wrote: “I have not had much success contacting some of my old friends to discuss growing up together.”
      Have you tried to send them something you wrote about when you were friends in active contact? Sometimes that can be an inducement for people to respond. It can “snoocker” them—especially if they think you have written something that does not agree with what they remember.

      Denis

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