What story chases you? What are the moments you can’t forget? These are clues that you have a story to tell, that a memoir is knocking on your door. For me, it was wanting to understand my mother, who’d left me with her mother when I was four. She’d visit once a year, and I loved her desperately, always getting close to inhale her skin, loving the way her dark eyes and shapely lips made her so beautiful. I wanted to understand her, and her mother, my grandmother, who had taken me in. They must have loved each other, but each visit, dishes were broken, their arguments rising to the ceiling along with the blue-gray smoke of endless cigarette. But these were stories of shame–mothers abandoning their children. Be silent! Don’t tell a story that shows how damaged we were. Don’t speak of what was wrong. But the stories had a life of their own. I lived them, they were part of me. There was no escaping them.
All right, the inner critic wants to silence us, I know, but there was more going on than my mother and missing her. There were those who had saved me–my cello teacher Mr. Brauninger, who revealed the deep beauty and healing power of music. My grandmother’s best friend, Aunt Helen, who blessed me with her brand of southern love: “God love ‘ya darlin'” she’d say, enveloping me in her generous bosom.
What are the stories that call out to you? Moments that shaped you into who you are now? What voices tell you to write them, and what forces stop you? What I learned in wrestling with my inner critic is that writing will cure it. To write, freewrite, write in a journal, just get something down on the page. Allow my voice to show up. I learned that one scene can lead to another scene, and these will be building blocks to a chapter. the stories that won’t leave us alone are the ones that have a key to freedom. The stories that will lead us to resolution–but only if we allow ourselves the voice that is our own. Our truth. And what we make of it.
Start today. Write about a moment you love remembering. Write about someone who touched your life and who you can never forget. Write about your grandmother’s garden or your father’s eye. Find details that make your heart pound a little harder. You’re on the right track.