Give It Away
One question I ask every memoirist I interview is, “What did you know about your story before you wrote it, and what did you learn about this story while you wrote it?” In certain ways, I believe the truest answer is that the writer knew everything before the writing, though what form that knowledge was in determines how this question is answered. As I write my own story I frequently find myself imbuing the character Bill Kenower with an understanding the writer Bill Kenower only recently—as in as he actually wrote it—was able to articulate. For instance, there is a moment in my story when my son says something that on the surface is quite shocking. At the time I was not at all shocked, though I could not express why until this morning when I wrote the scene.
The difference between the articulated and the unarticulated understanding is that the articulated understanding can be shared. Yet it is such an odd kind of sharing, for I must first learn to share it with myself. I must first turn the understanding into something I can see, not merely feel. That act of making visible is creation, but in order to see it, in order reveal it and share it with others, I must give up my exclusive ownership of it. The moment I can see it, it belongs to anyone else with eyes.
And being a memoir, I must in a small way give up my own life, or at least what I have called my life. When my wife’s grandmother was dying, every time we visited her little apartment she would try to give us something. “Take this vacuum,” she would say. “Here, Jennifer, have this fur coat.” She seemed happy to be rid of it all. On the day before she did pass, my wife and her sister sat by their grandmother’s bed in the hospice and sang with her the old Jewish songs she had taught them when they were girls. She was as happy on that day as my wife had ever seen her. I think it would feel very nice to have your life reduced to a song.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com