Writing a memoir is hard. I didn’t think it would be, you know, given that I have had first hand experience and front row tickets to the whole show all these years. But a few difficulties have in fact arisen in the past few months, and the biggest challenge has been My Memory. My Memory sucks. Fortunately the writing class in which I am currently enrolled is subtitled Memory Sparking Imagination. Because my memory isn’t sparking any memories. Now that I want to get my memories in the official record, I can’t remember shit—it turns out that my past is one vast impressionist painting. If I try to look more closely, train my mind’s eye on the details, it just deteriorates into unrecognizable blotches. So, that’s the first challenge: teasing the detail out of the blotch.
The second difficulty arises when the elusive details, some of which (with enough scrutiny) do become focused and sharp, reveal Disturbing Truths. Cuz, you know, sometimes I can discern the details and that’s when I realize that we lose our memories for a reason. We do not need to be able to recall the nitty grittiest parts of our youthful traumas. Turns out God made the blotches to protect us from ourselves. He made it that way so we could go on living, free of the DTs. For me, Religion is my primary DT and I don’t even believe in a god. But religion formed me and made me who I am, so clearly it is going to be a big, BIG part of my memoir. Remembering leads to reliving the trauma. I have very definite ideas about Religion, and in spite of what I said about God in the earlier part of this paragraph, I don’t really believe in God (that god, the one with the white hair and the flowing beard who sent his only son to die for our sins, if only we believe in him, etc. etc.). I do not believe there is any kind of great life force that we cannot see, no great spirit has our meager little lives in its consciousness. I have judgments, really, really negative and condescending feelings about people who do believe. Super narrow and very prejudiced feelings. I have Rigid Notions.
I am realizing it might be time to dispense with my Rigid Notions. Writing my memoir entailed taking some very close looks at how my life is currently informed by choices I made while under the influence of said Notions. I constructed much of my self-image (not my self-esteem, don’t confuse the two) from being an unbeliever. In my mind, my (lack of) beliefs made me smarter, more free-thinking, more better. JThis is not a Universal Truth. This is a highly biased, circumstantial personal belief formed in reaction to the Bad Religion of my childhood.
I would like to stop visibly twitching every time someone utters any of the following: church, god, Jesus, the bible, heaven, Christians. When I was a believer, I was encouraged to hold myself apart from the “world,” i.e. people who did not attend our church. I’ve spent the last 25 years doing the same damn thing, cutting myself off from a vast swath of experiences as I’ve held my self apart from the religious world. My last job (in a Catholic school), my writing classes and workshops, and my current van pool are bursting with smart, creative, intelligent and discerning people, people I respect. People, alas, who adhere to the whole Higher Power thing. I am unable to dismiss them as I might have even nine months ago. I do not want to hold myself apart any longer as it finally occurs to me that I am getting mountains of acceptance and love from the very people I judge based on my very outdated Rigid Notions, which are rooted in fear. Fear of things that are long over, gone, past, and mostly difficult to remember. How crazy is that?
Writing, as I always suspected, demands much from the writer, but the hard work is not always about what goes on the page.
6 thoughts on “Rigid Notions”
Does this mean you're going to church on Sunday mornings? Don't wake me up. 😉
These are some great insights, Pam. I think Linda hit the nail on the head when she referred to our memoir class as therapy. Would you have come to your Rigid Notions theory without it? I've made some startling realizations of my own during this process, and they haven't always been pretty. In the end, I think that the story you write will be richer for the hard work that doesn't go on the page.
Hooray! More love, less fear …from everybody (especially from those who think it might motivate). That would make a better world, and, dare I say it, Jesus himself would probably have been pleased (before he was murdered and the stories of death and miracles overwealmed the other messages he shared — yes, yes, if he was real and alive and no proof, whatever).
Aha. As in: a new & clearer light. I was searching online today for a graphic of headlights shining in the dark (re Doctorow's “writing is like driving at night”). Your post gives me a great image of what's visible in the tail lights, too. Sheesh — you mean we hafta pay attention in ALL directions?!
What looks back at me from the mirror isn't always pretty. And that's the challenge: to softly, gently, love even her. And then make room for more humanness in all of us. Therein lies the beauty of writing and reading your (and other people's writing). Thanks for digging deep.