We build our lives on lies.
The stories we tell about our pasts are just that–stories. We either ignore the bad and romanticize the good or we ignore the good and exploit the bad. Either way, the result is less than truth.
If I wrote my memoir in the traditional vein, I would write about an idyllic, small-city, Midwestern life of growing up near a creek, catching crawdads in the summer, skating on the ice in my white rubber boots in the winter, climbing mulberry trees and putting the fruit in my cereal, playing hide-and-seek in the evening as the fireflies started popping until mom yelled from the back porch to come inside, playing with fireworks, riding bikes with no helmet, wandering the woods and the parks and the streets unaccompanied, with abandon.
All of these things happened.
The problem is, these things happened for many kids in my neighborhood. According to memes and accounts from friends on Facebook decrying the loss of the good old days, these things happened for many of them, too.
But it’s not all that happened. It’s never all that happened.
Such memoir is not bad, but it’s not useful. Maybe it’s even dangerous. Living in a post-truth world, where the cultural relativism of the postmodern era has come full-circle to mean not the acknowledgment of others’ realities but the denial of any reality, idyllic tales of the past lead to unhealthy comparisons between our current state and a past that never fully existed.
Thus, “Make America Great Again.”
The political is also personal. When we as individuals compare our current lives with a romanticized past, we shut out the possibility of learning from what we have lived to face the reality of our current existence. We cannot move forward by saying that our lives will never be as good as they were, because they were never all good in the first place. Ever.
This is the beginning of an emotional journey. I know the market is flooded with memoir. Most memoir like what I have described ends up in people’s drawers after writing workshops. Most of what gets published is in the second vein–exploiting, for lack of a better word, childhood abuse and trauma, because that is important and needs to be exposed and acknowledged and validated, but also because that is what the market rewards.
My vision is to write memoir that includes the good with the bad; memoir that leads to lessons for the present, not nostalgia for the past. My hope is that others will read it and be inspired to see their own pasts more clearly so that they may live their own lives more fully.
And so I begin.