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Lions Roar : March 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2008 54 Memoir gives you the ability to plop down like the puddle that forms and spreads from the shattering of a glass of milk on the kitchen floor. You watch how the broken glass gleams from the electric light overhead. The form of memoir has leisure enough to examine all this. Memoir is not a declaration of the American suc- cess story, one undeviating road, the conquering of one mountaintop after another. The puddle began in down- fall. The milk didn’t get to the mouth. Whatever your life, it is urging you to record it—to embrace the crumbs with the cake. It’s why so many of us want to write mem- oir. We know the particulars, but what really went on? We want the emotional truths under the surface that drove our life. In the past, memoir was the country of old people, a looking back, a reminiscence. But now people are dis- closing their lives in their twenties, writing their first memoir in their thirties and their second in their forties. This revolution in personal narrative that has unrolled across the American landscape in the last two and a half decades is the expression of a uniquely American ener- gy: a desire to understand in the heat of living, while life is fresh, and not wait till old age—it may be too late. We are hungry—and impatient now. But what if you are already sixty, seventy years old, eighty, ninety? Let the thunder roll. You’ve got some- thing to say. You are alive and you don’t know for how long. (None of us really knows for how long.) No matter your age there is a sense of urgency, to make life imme- diate and relevant. Think of the word: “memoir.” It comes from the French memoire. It is the study of memory, structured on the meandering way we remember. Essentially it is an examination of the zigzag nature of how our mind works. The thought of Cheerios ricochets back to a bro- ken fence in our backyard one Nebraska spring, then hops over to the first time we stood before a mountain and understood kindness. A smell, a taste—and a whole world flares up. How close can we get? All those questions, sometimes murky and uncomfortable: Who was that person who was your mother? Why did you play basketball when you longed to play football? Your head wanted to explode, un- til you first snorted cocaine behind the chain-link fence near the gas station. Then things got quiet and peaceful, but what was that black dog still at your throat? Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid, (detail), c. 1670, Johannes Vermeer No one says it but writing induces a state of love. Your life is real. OILONCANVAS,NATIONALGALLERYOFIRELAND,DUBLIN MAR 52-57.indd 54 MAR 52-57.indd 54 12/19/07 2:14:33 PM 12/19/07 2:14:33 PM