"I think it's too easy to recount your unhappy memories when you write about yourself. You bask in your own innocence. You revere your grief. You arrange your angers at their most becoming angles."
~ Margo Jefferson
I am tearing through memoirs lately and just finished Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's My Beloved World. I was excited to read it, not only because it is written by a Latina, but also because I heard rave reviews from friends. Now I'm not so sure we read the same book. By memoir standards My Beloved World is decent, but it's frankly more auto-biography than the reflection required by memoir - though Sotomayor insists that is her goal in the introduction.
When Sotomayor did reflect, I was grateful. There are too few examples of what high powered women go through. Some highlights below.
On her divorce from her husband:
"I'd never seen need as an essential part of love. Weren't caring and affection, mutual respect, and sharing a life really more the point? If anything, need seemed to make the feeling contingent, less genuine, almost as if there were an ulterior motive to loving someone. In retrospect, maybe I was looking at it too rationally. The truth is that since childhood I had cultivated an existential independence. It came from perceiving the adults around me as unreliable, and without it I felt I wouldn't have survived. I cared deeply for everyone in my family, but in the end I depended on myself. That way of being was part of the person I would become, but where once it had represented salvation, now it was alienating me from the person I had vowed to spend my life with."
On being perceived as tough:
"In this comradely environment, I learned to be more attentive to how I was perceived by colleagues. That initial impression of 'one tough bitch' had mostly faded with experience but would resurface now and again when someone new joined us....
When I'm focused intensely on work, I become oblivious to social cues, or any cues for that matter. I block out the entire universe beyond the page in front of me or the issue at hand. Colleagues who knew me well didn't take it personally. In fact, they sometimes found it convenient. ...That same tendency as a prosecutor gave me a reputation - undeserved, I believe - for ruthlessness in cross-examinations. It's not how I mean to be; when I'm concentrating hard and processing information quickly, the questions just shoot out unceremoniously."
I can relate - on both counts.
Yes, Please by Amy Poehler It's not the best memoir I've read, but it did have a few good nuggets:
"You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look."
"I firmly believe that every boy needs his mom to love him and every girl needs her dad to pay attention to her."
"a bossy woman is someone to search out and celebrate. A bossy woman is somone who cares and commits and is a natural leader. Also, even though I'm bossy, I like being told what to do by people who are smarter and more interesting than me."
I recently attended a reading by an author of a best selling memoir about a mother daughter relationship. I went because I'm interested in writing a memoir. As the author talked about her book, which I had not read, it occurred to me that the author's daughter was standing in as a proxy for the emotions the author didn't allow herself to have about her own mother.
After the reading, I had a quick quiet moment with the author. So I decided to pose the question:
"I hope this isn't too personal, but do you think your daughter has served as a proxy for the emotions you didn't allow yourself to have about your mother?" I said.
She touched my arm. "You haven't read the book, but yes. You're so perceptive," she said.
She was then called away to sign some books.
I didn't get a chance to complete my thought. Which was I hope she takes her daughter off the hook. I hope she gives her daughter permission to have her own relationship with her (the author's) mother. While the process may be painful to the author (she doesn't have a good relationship with her mother), I think the result would be beneficial to everyone - grandmother, mother, daughter, alike.
I understand having a difficult relationship with a family member, but letting a bad relationship affect a third party, is detrimental and in the end, only exacerbates the dysfunction.
"Don't approach your history as something to be shaken for cautionary fruit...Tell your stories, and your story will be revealed...Don't be afraid of appearing angry, small-minded, obtuse, mean, immoral, amoral, calculating, or anything else. Take no care for your dignity. Those were hard things for me to come by, and I offer them to you for what they may be worth."
Daniel Kahneman, the inventor of behavioral economics, says it's all about who you are talking to - your experiencing self or your remembering self. The experiencing self is all about the present moment while the remembering self is the story teller. The trick is we don't actually choose between experiences but we do choose between memories. Which has me thinking more about my recent memoir writing class.
Check out his TED talk here: