The Question of Motives:

Why write a memoir?


There I sat: a queen in her counting house, writing my memoir.

With the hum of the glorious world, and the trees bursting into flower outside the window, what an odd thing to do—to sit closeted away, writing about the past.  But all the same, there I sat, contentedly alone, writing a book about my childhood.

I happened to grow up—we are all tossed into our lives like seeds into hay—moving about the globe as the daughter of a spy.  I was born in beautiful, war-crumbled Japan, just after the Occupation.  Then, as a girl, I moved from Japan to the green-shining padis of Taiwan; to Bermuda shorts-and-Lassie Washington D.C.; to The Netherlands—land of rain and cream puffs; back to a Washington now teeming with hippies; to the orchid jungles of Borneo; and then back to Japan, now re-built with sky-scrapers but still suffused with its gorgeous hush.   I won’t say more, as you may read the whole story in my book, Born Under an Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter…

In many ways, in the end, mine was a quite ordinary girlhood, with all the usual trials and triumphs of growing up.  There were the allures of my father’s unusual employment, the exotic cultures, and the keenness of transience and loss—spices sprinkled into the story of a girl—but these are insufficient to explain the countless hours spent summoning the past.  (Most of my background don’t so engage themselves.)  Yet there I was, at my desk, toiling away, tugging at all the strings of my life, fishing back all the little bits of experience and plinking them onto the page—as if I were a pirate greedily collecting gold coins for my secret leather pouch.

Why on earth, you may fairly ask, does a person expend the months and months of toil required to write a memoir?  Upon reflection, I have unearthed twelve reasons I, myself, engaged in this odd activity.  My hope is that this list of reasons may help you—if you wish to write a memoir of your own—to understand and legitimize your own impulse.  And, for those who have no such impulse and scratch their heads at those of us who do, I hope this list may help you to have compassion for us who do feel compelled to shut ourselves away in closets with boxes of memories.  Here is the list of reasons—to be elaborated in the posts to come.

Why Write a Memoir? Twelve Reasons:

Reason 1             To release emotion

Reason 2             Out of loss

Reason 3             As a hymn to the past—and in order to go home again

Reason 4             To make sense of the past—in a quest for resolution

Reason 5             Out of longing and love

Reason 6             To find out who one is—to assemble a self

Reason 7             To unload—so as to live more fully in the present

Reason 8             For one’s own pleasure—and in celebration

Reason 9             To extend a hand—to offer a mirror to oneself and others

Reason 10           To release secrets

Reason 11           To record history and one individual’s history

Reason 12           To claim one’s own small portion of the globe