As my final post of the week for Well-Read Donkey, I thought I'd write a few words on the whole question of what it means--and doesn't mean--to put oneself out there as a writer of memoir. I've been on the road this week promoting Devotion, and this question comes up again and again.
Do you feel exposed? An audience member will ask. Like you've revealed intimate details about yourself, your family, your inner life, for all the world to see and judge?
The truth is, I don't feel exposed, and I don't think most memoir writers feel exposed either. The act of writing memoir is one of crafting a story out of one's own life. That act--the ability to pick and choose details, to reveal precisely what one wants to reveal--is one of craft and control, of artistic purpose. Last night, at a reading I did in Corona del Mar, someone asked if when I was writing Devotion, it felt like I was writing in a journal. I was glad for the question, because it gave me a chance to talk about the profound, gargantuan difference between writing a memoir and writing in a journal. I have kept journals for many years, and believe me, if they were published I would feel exposed. I have used my journals as dumping grounds for the detritus of my life: my undigested thoughts and feelings, my boring rants and concerns and obsessions. Every once in a while, I think about burning them.
But memoir is something else altogether. Certainly, what's on the page is deeply personal. Certainly it means that people know certain facts of my life that they would otherwise have no way of knowing. But when someone reads one of my memoirs, what I feel most is that they are entering a story I have spent years building and polishing. It's not raw, nor is it confessional. What it is, more than anything, is best summed up in the words of Jane Kenyon: One soul, extending to another, saying "I've been there too."