Memories and Memoirs

I don’t know if I could ever make much of a memoirist. None of the people I know have ever been out of the galaxy, and very few of them have gills or wings. I do know a parrot that swears. Once you’ve made the mistake of letting one slip in the parrot’s presence, it swears loudly, and in your voice, so there’s no pretending you didn’t teach the bird those words.

And it keeps doing it, after you’re dead.

It seems like there should be an Etiquette Handbook for Parrots. Something with guidelines that suggest not swearing, not ringing like the telephone during funerals, and certainly not (under any circumstances) calling out to the grieving widow using her dead husband’s voice.

Doesn’t matter. The parrot’s still there, and it’s still cussing it’s little heart out in a wide variety of voices. And it’s good. It stops you in your tracks, and leaves you–for one unworldly second–thinking you’re hearing them. People who have gone before…

But it’s just the damn parrot.

I’m a lot like that parrot. Plus or minus a few common courtesies. And I could use an Etiquette Handbook for Writers. How long does a person have to be dead, before you can start telling the stories?  How long before you can start telling those stories honestly?

How long before other people who knew the person are willing to admit that your stories are honest? Or, at the very least, not malicious?

I’m coming off of a death at the end of a complicated relationship this week. That’s what the trip was. All those hasty pictures. I barely had time to breathe.

And the moments when I did catch myself thinking–what moments there were–I found myself thinking in terms of structure. Literary structure. The story begins here. This moment, this fragment. Something taking shape, even if shape doesn’t actually imply making sense.

I began the week–or maybe ended last week, I’m not sure anymore–with a screeching lecture on the subject of memorializing people’s good points. Let’s be honest. Tensions were high.


And somehow, reducing someone to a two-dimensional saint, a cardboard cut out of something half of what they were, seems worse than not memorializing them, at all.

There were good things, of course. There always are. And the good things mattered. But they weren’t all that mattered. I can’t help feeling that there’s more change to be had–more difference to be made–in the grit and the truth and the pain, than in all the prettiest stories I could pluck out of reality.

How do memoirists deal with this stuff? The blood and guts, but Uncle Herbert was NOT a cannibal stuff? How long before you stop insisting that Uncle Gynecologist and Uncle Dentist were delightful company at dinner parties? When can you admit that Aunt Maisie’s cooking bordered on chemical warfare?


    • Reply

      Tell me what you work out with it. Right now, I’m leaning toward Pen Name and maybe write the whole thing in Swahili to ensure none of my family will ever read it. If I can figure out Swahili, that is…

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