Memoir is Subversive Literature

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Memoir is subversive literature.

Just so we’re all on the same page with the definition of subversive, here goes:

Subversive: tending or intending to subvert or overthrow, destroy, or undermine an established or existing system, especially a legally constituted government or a set of beliefs.

I didn’t know that about memoir when I started writing mine. I had stories to tell, an unusual life to share with anyone who cared to read about it. I wasn’t in the business of overthrowing or undermining anything. Had you told me that’s what I’d be doing I’d have laughed you out of the room.

So I began and the stories rolled off my fingers like old friends. Sort of. At least the first one did, the story of my mother’s illness when I was five. I’ve rehearsed it many times over the years and it’s part of my belief system. It’s become a reason, an excuse, a foundational principal on which to hang dysfunction and irresponsible choices throughout my life. I didn’t know that until I wrote it down. When committed to paper it became blatantly obvious, and I cringed under that painful awareness.

It wasn’t an auspicious start, but I continued. I’d describe an event, render it alive again by the power of words, then sit there as it stared back at me in black and white. Is that what really happened? Is that how I felt? It’s the story I’ve always told myself so it must be true, mustn’t it?

Whether by virtue of the kindness of time, or a different perspective, or maturity, when I took a close look at my particular rendering of personal history I was dumbstruck. They were stories, some even compelling, but the act of writing them down demanded a certain adherence to fact, and memory tended to give me impressions, nuances of remembered emotion, but nothing concrete. When I dug them up, the aura around old enemies was softer, pastels instead of intense reds. The ones I’d blamed seemed less culpable than I was myself.

Disturbing. Yes, in a word it was disturbing to realize that my existing system of beliefs was nothing more than a network of interwoven stories, many of which were no longer true. Often during the writing of my life I’d stop and scratch my head, Really? and attempt to put myself back into the scene for a replay.

What happened as a result was the biggest surprise of all. Clarity. I gained clarity about who I was then and how that person is different from who I am now. I saw the forces that were driving me, some good, some not, and took note. Are those same forces still at work? And my belief system was shot full of holes. I couldn’t believe my own stories and that called into question…everything!

The other big word was opportunity. Memoir gave me the opportunity to rewrite the script, literally and figuratively. I have huge compassion for the woman who lived that life. There were reasons she remembered things as she did. And where it seems fitting, I’ve told the stories her way. But for me, now, the revelations gained through that process have reminded me of a basic truth: life is made up of the stories we tell ourselves. At any point we can decide to frame it differently and the power of that can transform our present reality.

Every life is a treasure trove of stories, and telling them can be a healthy exercise for anyone who’s lived a bit. The insights gained are valuable beyond measure.

But memoir is subversive literature. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

 

 

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Diane Struble
    May 24, 2015 @ 18:23:51

    Can hardly wait until you have finished although memoirs can be for the writer’s eyes only rather than those of the world. Yours?

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  2. Carol Frei
    May 24, 2015 @ 19:33:47

    Great. Perfect!

    Like

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  3. sageblessings
    May 24, 2015 @ 20:55:42

    Wonderful!

    Like

    Reply

  4. Alexsandra Trevor
    May 26, 2015 @ 02:59:33

    Love your writing and yes, sometimes we write our stories and they take on a whole new meaning! Keep up the good work.

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    • writingforselfdiscovery
      May 28, 2015 @ 05:37:23

      And then they get edited and deeper questions come up…why this, who that, and suddenly there’s so much more to learn! But I love the whole process. It feels like such a luxury to have time and all these amazing words to work with.

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