Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Memoir Dilemma

When I first began seeing the esteemed Dr. Mars, my little sister and father were both still alive. My mother was gone, and while this fact was and remains unfathomable, it hadn’t yet rearranged all my brain cells to the point where I saw her at Trader Joe’s. That is to say, I did not run into her babyhood self. Her adult self, yes—I saw her everywhere, waiting for buses, exiting shops.

But that wasn’t why I sought Dr. Mars. Dr. Mars’ task, as I explained to him at our first visit, was to make sure I completed my memoir without ending up in a loony bin. Whatever this took--be it massive doses of psychopharmaceuticals, inane hippie aphorisms, or a chair and a whip—he was to use every tool in his box.

The basic conflict, I told him, was that I didn’t think memoirs should even exist, unless written by someone truly worthwhile, like Eleanor Roosevelt or maybe Dick Clark. For the generic person to think his or her story was important enough to be inflicted on others was, I added, the zenith of hubris. Unless it was the nadir of hubris. That was another problem with writing a memoir. You had to keep coming up with the right words.

The biggest hurdle, however, was knowing the ending at the beginning. You’re supposed to know how your memoir will end before you even begin it. What’s more, it’s supposed to end on a positive note to keep the readers from killing themselves, which, let’s face it, is not good for sales. Au contraire, the readers are supposed to be inspired by your ultimate triumphs, even if you have to make them all up. Never mind that making them up turns your memoir into something called fiction. Since fiction, as everyone in publishing knows, does not sell unless it’s John Grisham’s, you have to call it a memoir regardless. Which means you could wind up on TV getting yelled at by Oprah.

Dr. Mars, whom I suddenly noticed was movie star handsome, pointed out that no one could force me to write a memoir, that I had the option to back out any time. Shrinks are all about pointing out options. They like to pretend there’s a thing called free will.

“Money,” I said. “I have to earn money.”

And there was the rub. If I wrote the memoir, I’d end up in a bin. If I didn’t write it, I’d end up in the street. Or, like Blanche, dependent on the kindness of strangers, or worse, of rich friends, which I’d already tried once to disastrous effect. Clearly, my only real option was to make Dr. Mars want to marry me, after which he’d support me for life.


  1. I'm so glad you're back.

    That last sentence! You've got to write the next post soon.

  2. keep them coming!


  3. Thanks, Erika--I promise I will do my best!
    Ms. G

  4. Oh, thank goodness you're back!