The Heartbreak of Most Memoirs – But Why?

Every Tuesday when I was 22, I workshopped my writing in a Greenwich Village apartment.

I lived in New York the year I was 22, and Tuesday nights were spent at my friend Sue Shapiro’s Greenwich Village apartment, workshopping poems and stories and heartbreaking essays. I was a writer, determined to tell the world my story.

And writers do tell stories. We tell stories of heartbreak and sadness and sorrow and devastation. We drum up the stories from childhood of being bullied and of being ignored and of being told to not be who we are at the core.

That’s what writers do, right?

Evening devotion on the Ganges at Pamarth Niketan ashram, Rishikesh, India.

Except now I have to wonder why. Since India, I’ve been reading an incredible book by Swamiji of Parmarth Niketan called PeaceIn it, he explains that our children and our spouses are not ours. Children come through us but are not of us – they are their own people, Swamiji writes, and it is not for us to control them.

So, too, a spouse is someone to share in life with, but not to live for or to depend on for happiness. These are ideas we’ve always known but rarely follow. We are here to connect with the divine within, to make our mark on the world, to leave a legacy of goodness. And that is a job for individuals.

At the same time, I began reading a memoir, Exodusby Deborah Feldman. The poor girl lived a hellish childhood as an abandoned daughter in an ultra-strict Hasidic community of New York. Married off as a teen, her story is one of devastation and being ignored, abuse and neglect, expectation and judgment.

So sad that her community believes it is their job to control the individuals within it. So misguided. So wrong. Any time we think we can control others, we must laugh inwardly at the absurdity of it. Do you really believe you are in control?

Poor girl. Now, in her 20s, she’s written two best-selling books in which she bemoans her fate and her experiences. Why me? Why can’t I feel? Why can’t I love and be loved?

And I feel for her, believe me. I see all the missteps and mistakes, shrouded in religious fervor.

Except I can’t help but wonder if her misery lives on because she continues to relive it through her writing.

From my shimmery-white perspective, there are two problems with the memoir genre. One is staying mired in what is past, never living in the now. The other is replaying the same sad song over and over again, never allowing oneself to listen to the upbeat rhythms and harmonies of new music.

And I hate to say it because I have a damn good unpublished memoir sitting on my computer hard drive.

Do we write about the negative and the misery and the horrid past because it sells? Is it the peeping-tom consumerism of books that demands strife and tragedy in order to skyrocket sales?

Because I have to believe that good can sell, too. That happy endings and happy beginnings and beautiful words strung together like white lights along the roof lines are just as compelling as the drama and trauma.

That was then and this is now. What I write about now I write about to notice the moments I am living and to share the beauty of life. Even the gray days. Even the cold. Even the dusting of snow on the rooftops this morning as I drove to yoga with my little guy.

Life is full of choices and they are only ours for the making. They’re not for anyone else to determine how we live our lives – even though they may try. Parents, children, siblings and friends. Some very well want to tell us how to live because it makes them feel better about their own indecision.

We can tune them out.

We can.

I don’t know if I’ll finish reading the book or move on to another one from my nightstand stack. The writing is good, definitely. She was brave to leave. But she still sends her young son back to the heart of insanity for weekends, where his father leaves him unattended in a car on a city street.

We can look at all the ways we may be broken.

Or we can focus on all the ways we can be whole.

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