Writing a memoir is a bit like taking pictures of my life with the same camera—but with different lenses. And so reconciling these two elements—seeing my life as it was and then viewing it, or aspects of it, from a fresh perspective—is what distinguishes the memoir genre from many others. In my experience with life-writing, it’s the change that happens to the writer when these two elements collide that provides some of the most thrilling takeaways in literature. Many people want to read books with the most salient lessons.
And yet, this genre of writing can be a tricky one. It’s like exploring in a cave. How much do we see on those walls of rock? How bright is the flashlight we are holding? We’re walking from daylight into a dark space, trying to see what’s there. But we are not the same person we were last year, or when we were a young child. We might interpret what’s etched into those rocks very differently now.
Memoir is about the truth of memory, not of history. It’s not about what happened to us so much as our perception of those events.
Memoir is indeed a difficult medium to master. And we will pick and choose what we want to gnaw on. With the eyes of a child I used to be terribly angry with many people in my life: my parents, my siblings, and others. My memory was biased and I viewed things in absolutes—with the unrelenting eyes of a child.
As a parent myself who has struggled with my own children more than my parents ever did, I know only too well that they did the best they could. I understand them and see them as complete human beings, and above all well intentioned, just as I see myself now—but no longer with the eyes of a child.
The passage of time and the perspective it brings have enabled me to see my early years in a different light. My brother, sister and I enjoyed many privileges that I’m glad to focus on now. Our parents, under trying circumstances, always wanted to ensure our wellbeing. And though it’s taken me many years to recover from the effects of my father’s alcoholism and overcome the depression that had plagued me throughout my life, I can view things through a broader set of lenses and be grateful now l for a truly extraordinary life.