To write a memoir, I think, is a form of righting the human balance. We all tell stories about one another’s lives, but few of us really step up to the plate, and honestly, tell ours. We live in a culture where much truth, the naked body, is hidden, and words, which should be sacred, are used carelessly, whipped-up to obfuscate, or wielded like clubs rather than selected carefully, to show scrubbed bone-truth. In this milieu, I believe, stripping others or peering through doors into other people’s lives is not fair without offering your own. Otherwise, you are a voyeur, committing the sin of pride or smugness: exposing others while concealing and protecting yourself, strolling in ermine and a crown among the half-clad peasants. I feel, as a literary journalist who opens a window on other people’s struggles, that I have an obligation to show myself, to go to the extra mile, to leave the campsite cleaner than when I found it.
The writer must venture into the jungle of the memoir form—arrows whizzing at her through the trees–with one article of faith tucked under her arm: Montaigne’s hallowed words. Every man bears the entire form of human nature. If the philosopher-essayist was right—that each of us is bearer of all human urges–each memoir-writer may proceed, assured of her legitimacy. We are all, potentially, illuminators of the human struggle, and can contribute a drop into the sea of greater understanding—each drop no less important for its infinitessimalness.
I say literary memoir-writing is not navel-gazing, or conceit, or prostitution, but an offering of truth in a world gone hazy about it. I say we all have a right to our own stories, our own versions of the truth, and the more versions we have, the richer we are. If more people would skinny dip, splash in the water naked as milk-cows, the whole world would be not only clean, but refreshed.