The simplest answer is that I’ve always loved to write, and lacking the creativity to write fiction, or the tenacity to research subjects for non-fiction, I write about what I know, my life.
If I look beyond my lack of creativity, I see writing memoir feeds a certain voyeurism. I’ve always been fascinated by letters and the glimpse they provide into other people’s lives. I’ve never been able to resist an epistolary book, fiction or non-, and I’ve come to realize that many of the memoir pieces I’ve written are basically letters to myself, or to the family that comes after me. I love reading letters, so I write them.
Much of what I’ve learned and come to understand about my relatives comes from old family letters and diaries. I come from a family of writers and savers, so there’s lots of material to mine, and in reading them, I’ve gained a sense not only of who these people were but also clues as to why I am the way I am. My memoir writing will, I hope, help both me and my family understand ourselves better. There may be some “Aha” moments. My tale of my grandmother’s box of “perfect boxes”, the ones she couldn’t bear to use, may help my minimalist son understand where my packrat tendency comes from. It may help him understand in turn why his son collects everything, including a small box of tiny balls of used aluminum foil…”perfect balls”, I’m sure.
And, finally, I write memoir because I’m getting older. More and more friends and relatives are dying, and they take with them their stories. Too many times I hear, “Oh, Gib had a story about that. I wish I could remember it”, or “Joe would have known the answer to that.” My brother and I are the oldest of our generation, he by 7 years and me by 4, and there’s a chunk of time for which we are the family memory. We’ll get a call from a cousin asking us something, as we used to ask our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. Sometimes we remember, sometimes it’s a mystery. I want to leave something where those who come after us will have some answers… and some laughs…and so, I write.
What keeps me writing? Part of it is that I need an outlet for my creativity, such as it is. Part of it is that I get asked a question about my life or my family’s just often enough to remind me that I need to get these stories written down before it’s too late, and part of it is that the process of examining the events and organizing them into a readable form helps me to understand them, and I feel better for it. No wonder I keep doing it!
Pam Lives in Leeds, Maine. She has attended several Turning Memories Into Memoirs workshops. In addition to being a memoir writer, she is an accomplished photographer who has shown in south central Maine.