There is nothing easy about doing all you have to do to make people and emotions alive on the page or screen while also scooping out the truth of your own heart, while also making a serious attempt to tell it like it actually was. And I couldn’t agree with her more about a good memoir being the opposite of narcissistic.
I’m so bored with arguments against memoir. They’re almost always simple-minded and ignorant. I tend to know people are in trouble when they speak in categorical terms about anything like an entire literary genre. Yes, there are memoirs that are narcissistic and awful! Just like there are novels that are narcissistic and awful and there are poems that are narcissistic and awful and there are plays that are narcissistic and awful. Narcissism and awfulness has absolutely nothing to do with the genre itself. I think some people are threatened by the idea of memoir. Like “how dare someone who isn’t famous get to write about his or her life and expect others to read it!” But the truth is, we’ve been using our lives as material since the dawn of literature, in every genre.
— Cheryl Strayed on memoir-writing via Lit Hub
The way in is not always straightforward. Truth appears and disappears under cover. Doorways have to be found—or created. Definitions presented. Still, words do not breach the distance between what is and what can be known. Poetry and science surge from the same source, seeking what cannot be seen or felt, unearthing strata of significance buried within a single observation, or word. Differences between words blur. (Consider “tool” and “weapon.” Does the truth ever not hurt?) Language conceals as much as it reveals, a renewable resource of morphing meaning. Sometimes the only way to understand something is to assemble fragments and hold them up to the light.
(Super apt quote after re-watching Arrival last night!)
We do language. That may be the measure of our lives.
Word-work is sublime, she thinks, because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference–the way in which we are like no other life.
We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.