Monday, August 31, 2015

Those Were The Days

Memoirs are increasingly common these days. But why? What value does a memoir have? I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about the importance of memoirs, as opposed to a journal or diary.

Journals and diaries are the classic, stereotypical, "let's talk about our feelings" record. My cousin kept a diary for years, and as she's like a sister to me, I did the typical older-brother bull and read it once. "I really like Jon" and "I hate algebra." Lots of feelings and nonsense; a record of her emotional state. Emotions are not the measure of a person. I've done my fair share of rants about teachers, but they don't define me. Not to mention, that's nothing I'd really want to sit down with and read, though I'm sure later in life she'll look back on those records fondly.

Not that memoirs are necessarily something for the general public. I'm not saying you should write memoirs like a novel, then rush to a publisher. No. While some memoirs are incredibly interesting works (e.g. the memoirs of John Taylor, who worked with the Forest Service ages ago; the memoirs of famous rockstars), most aren't meant to be best-sellers. However, memoirs are great works for family members - particularly descendants - to read. My great aunt tracked our family's lineage back through the ages through memoirs (and journals/diaries, too), and the format memoirs use gives context to happenings.

Yes, a diary may say "August 24th, 2015," but memoirs will give more context. "Wildfires were raging throughout many states, with some having been declared a state of emergency. The smoke was so thick I couldn't see the trees at the edge of the property line, and every night the sun looked like it was drenched in the blood of those who could not escape the fires." Things like that. Memoirs are written to be accessible, so that years from now, if my grandkids were to read my non-existent memoirs with the aforementioned quote, they could see how bad it was. They would know what was going on in the world around me, know how bad it is/was, and be able to picture it. From there, I could tell my story, about having to work through the smoke and ash, hearing my friends pleading for places to stay as they fled the fires.

Memoirs are big-picture, but with a window into the world of the writer. Context is everything, but with a personal touch. I would almost say it's the step between a diary and a novel. Yes, it's a true story. It's a person's life, so there's not the focus on the climax and literary structure. But the thing that gives a novel power is the context. In Angela Townsend's first book, Amarok, Emma is a modern girl, fighting an evil that's been around on this Earth basically since the dawn of time. We have context of place and time, but it's her story. It's not written first-person, and it's not a true story, so it can't be memoirs. To whomever writes memoirs, they are personal, a matter of life-and-death, and they take place within the real world, in a relatable context. A memoir is more accessible than a journal, but may refer to a journal or quote a journal. There is context and meaning, but also emotional depth.

This is why we write memoirs.

We want those who come after us to know us, know their roots. We want to make a real, solid, tangible connection to the generations that we will never see, never meet; both as the writer and as the reader. It's why we love to make home movies. We'll always be able to see the face of our loved one. A father can see his baby's face, whether they've passed on, or are only away at college. A woman can see her grandmother again, years after she's been buried. This is the importance of memoirs. This is why we write them.
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