The Afterglow of Memoir
I published my memoir in May 2010 to much fanfare and celebration. Tammy and The Feral Cats made my book signing a special occasion. A hundred copies of my book entitled “Stifle Yourself, Edith” were lined up at the registration table, ready to be autographed. The luncheon tables were decorated with posters of my book cover showing a little girl quieting herself with food. It was not a photo of me, just a good likeness, but the sweet girl definitely had my appetite.
There was a harpist, champagne, and a three-tiered cake with my book cover’s image on it. Memoirists in Tammy’s writing community, as well as my friends at Heritage Palms, came to support me. I was euphoric and honored that Maggie Downs came, too. I was on Cloud Nine. There was such an afterglow that I felt like a cigarette although I don’t smoke.
When other women read their stories that day there was not a dry eye in the house. It was an empathy fest in a primal, communal sense. There was a common thread that ran throughout our lives, a universal theme of womanhood, and a sense of wonder that we made it through the good times, the bad times, and the some other times in between.
Underneath I felt scared to death because I didn’t know what people would think of my book, or of me. I read an excerpt and the audience seemed to like it. Their validation calmed me. I had finally told my story about a father who drank too much, who beat my siblings before age mellowed him, an abortion I had, and an affair that I regretted. These were taboo subjects which I had never divulged before. I told the truth as I remembered it and I did not hold back. It would not serve any purpose to conceal myself. Crushing my innate spirit to meet others’ expectations was a complete waste of time. And I had wasted too much time already.
My story contained some dreamy romances, a near miss with a celebrity musician, and a lollapalooza about my encounter with a con man. My book was made real by photos of my immediate family; I carry a permanent aching for these good people. I also mourn the loss of my youthful pretty self but I would not trade it for the pretty that now resides inside.
I experienced the ultimate liberation from writing my memoir. Once I unburdened myself of my secrets, my regrets and my fears, they no longer took up space in my psyche. I was not a weak person, or a victim, or a repressed human being. In fact, in writing memoir, I learned that I am unique and that I matter. I learned that I am alive and vibrant and funny. I discovered my purpose in life: to make people feel special, to let them know they matter, to make them laugh and to let them shine.
I also experienced a connectedness and love for women. I think this love affair with women began in childhood as I listened to my mother and aunts tell their stories at the kitchen table — ordinary women with extraordinary souls.
Whether or not my readers shared a similar past, it freed them to go deep and reveal their own truths. I received many phone calls, emails, cards, even a toy for my dog — as women opened up their hearts to me. Some of the feedback began with “you won’t believe this but when I was young”; “the same thing happened to me”; “I couldn’t put your book down, the memories kept coming”; “ my first husband abused me”; “can’t wait for the sequel”; “OMG I laughed and I cried”; “I see so much of me in you”. I was thrilled with the positive feedback which felt like a warm embrace. But then reality hit.
One day, a new friend warned me about copyright law and said that I should not use quotes, even if attributed, and that I must get permission from the publisher or the author or I would be liable. And using lyrics is even more dangerous. Sony might come after me and beat me over the head with a giant microphone. Another friend warned me that using first names might be cause for litigation despite the book’s disclaimer. Another friend was hurt because I had not written about her and our European trip. I later discovered nine spelling errors and the mistaken inclusion of a photo which excluded one of my dearest friends. So it didn’t take long for my bubble to burst. I had to balance euphoria with reality. I guess I had to stifle myself just a little. And put out that cigarette.
I never intended to publish my memoir, and was naïve about potential litigation, but the writing took on a life of its own; so there before my eyes on that day in May, were 100 copies of my little pink book. Soon thereafter, I took the memoir down from the publishing site. I vowed to re-write my memoir but this time I would try to avoid getting sued or going to jail. Last week at Mimi’s I waited for a friend for lunch and since she’s always late, I decided to read excerpts of my book on my Kindle. I was kind of surprised at how funny it was, and I laughed out loud. The other diners asked to have what I was having.
I intend to re-write my memoir because I think it is a story worth re-telling. It is my story and yet it is every woman’s story because it evokes emotion, raw and pure and authentic. And there’s nothing wrong with a good belly laugh either.