Write a memoir at your hazard. It is a precarious activity. One that makes you prone to embarrassing yourself. All the awkwardness, the idiocy of youth come flooding back, and, believe me, you suddenly really are fourteen. You do stupid things, you act weird, because it’s like you’re half your forty-nine year-old self and half- your fourteen year-old self and you lurch around in your harlequin garb, unable to stand. One moment you’re tongue-tied at the edge of the dance floor, the next you’re pitching to the torrents, pulses, surges, and swayings of first love. In the course of the writing, when operating under the influence of my mixed selves, I have put three feet in my mouth (the urge to self-humiliation was so great, I needed a spare), acted mentally ill, become a lovesick puppy, and delivered lectures, mature as Athena, all at once.
Sometimes as I wrote, I was in a fugue, as when I was drugged at sixteen, an episode of the memoir. And all along, the process led me toward the precipices of foolish acts, unaccountable acts. For instance, immersion in old years left leaves me prone to fits of sweet love, when I wanted to fling my arms around all the people of the past, throw caution to the winds, and kiss them passionately.
…This brings me to the hazards associated with writing the memoir. Warnings for the novice, for any about to set their walking sticks on the memoirist’s trail.
Many have noted how the writing robs the writer of his memories. Nabokov laments, as he refers to the writing implements of his childhood, “Alas, these pencils, too, have been distributed among the characters in my books to keep fictitious children busy; they are not quite my own now…Few things are left, many have been squandered…”
In Proust we find the thought that it is not the author who creates the story, but the story that creates the author. Beware who you create. She’ll stay with you, take you over, define you forever after. I think it prudent—and I have done this myself—to purposely leave out, preserve, some memories, episodes, and favorite people, so that not all your memories are stolen from you, trapped in the cage of sentences.
Another hazard of writing a memoir: the people of your past seem, alternately like a pack of zombies ready to attack and submerge you, and a throng of dream people showering you with love. Either shakes your little pram.
While in obsession’s thicket—it is true—I neglected my friends. I couldn’t talk to them while I was in this haze, this morass of yearning, this bubble, while I tried to negotiate this watery ground, palpitate this tumor of the past.
Writing my memoir, I let myself go—both ways—into my head. I surrendered to the force. Without me, my mind brushed on the next dab of paint, as if by instinct knowing how to make it all fit by association. Many days, I worked in a fever, a frenzy, as if the bombing started the next morning at dawn. Memories and thoughts awakened me at night. In the darkness, I shuffled around in the bed clothes, hitting my knuckles as I tried to wrest index card and pencil from the bedside table in the dark, waking up my tired husband—and then was blurry and short with the kids in the morning. But there was the petite, incomparable thrill of note cards spilled around my bed at dawn: little jewels I gathered in the morning, a harvest from the blackness of night.