Recently, I sped-read through Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?The graphic novel/memoir had me all angsty, inspired, and scared shitless.
How do some writers and creatives bare so much without seeming volatile or the very definition of TMI?
I also have been listening to Mary Karr’s Lit on my 12 hour round-trip to NYC. Another finely written memoir with lots of references to a troubled mother-daughter relationship.
And then, I randomly picked up a book I’ve owned but never really delved into, Lee Gutkind’s You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Non-Fiction From Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between.
The opening of Gutkind’s book takes place in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, my current workplace and educational headquarters.
(I get it Universe, I get it.)
Speaking of the Self is not for sissies, not even in our celebrity-obsessed, here-are-pictures-of-my-lunch culture.
Every time I admit a personal truth, I cringe for days afterwards. I agonize over posting pictures of myself. I wonder if I’m being too transparent and the unholiest of gen-Y archetypes: A Narcissist.
There is a real push against the use of the word “I” these days in writing. My generation of millenials is constantly branded as the most self-absorbed, “me” generation to hit the planet. (Baby Boomers beware!)
In Are You My Mother? Bechdel’s own mother criticizes the genre of memoir. It is extremely suspect in her eyes. One of Bechdel’s questions to her mother in this conversation is, “Can’t you be more universal by being specific?”
This exchange stuck with me especially. I have my own Inner Memoir Suspect who scoffs at anything I write or express that isn’t transcendent or “universal”.
I have often wished I didn’t need to explain the world this way–through the prism of Myself. I would appear objective and intellectual. People’d think I was really something!
This is what I tell myself.
But, in this fact I am a true Aries: I am interested in the Self and selves to an almost embarrassing degree. I am in love with stories that are ripped straight from an actual life.
Once, a close friend of mine made some comment on the “navel gazer” aspects of writing these days (as if autobiographical writing just came to exist in the last couple of years lol). The remark stuck with me as I was sure she was referencing my blog. (Yes, I was projecting Big Time.)
I started wondering whether I should just stop with all my “confessional” writing about body image. I crushed my desire for Storytelling until it was a little squeak from the corner of my brain. I told myself that my interest in fashion blogging was vapid and stupid.
I should be writing about Catastrophe. Or War. Or the newest #Protest. Who gives a fuck about an outfit I wore or my inner ramblings?
Is the collective side-eye toward memoir or writing infused with “I” a symptom of the fear of close truth? Is it because many of the “I’s” that are emerging these are not old, bearded white dudes smoking cigars?
What are We so scared of?
Of course, there are the liars and the whiners. There are the TMI bombs and a million little pieces of questionable truth.
But, there is also beauty and vulnerability and The Liar’s Club, The Black Notebooks, With or Without You, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. And of course Are You My Mother?
No matter the medium, there are limits to truth and what we can really express about our inner and external worlds. This is a fact that will always be.
I hope those of you looking to express real parts of your story to wider audiences continue to do so. Sometimes they are inspirational, sometimes they are just weird or fun.
Please know that there are people like me out there who live to read and observe your story.
I’m still making friends with my self-involved shadow sister; the part of me that has to dissect almost all events in reference to my personal worldview. Warning: You’ll be seeing a lot of Her here.