Unreliable Truth: On Memoir & Memory
by Maureen Murdock
Murdock muses that she writes in an effort to disentangle her voice from the grip of her mother’s anger. I wonder as I read: would that be how her mother saw the relationship? My reflections are an effort to disentangle myself from the grip of the remembered mocking disdain and disgust at my hopelessly worthless nature. However, I do not doubt for a moment that’s not how my partner in this dysfunctional snarl saw our relationship — I suspect there was a sincere belief this was the right thing to do to encourage growth and maturity.
Consequently I reflect often in my writing, but I have not committed memories to paper (or rather, computer screen) past one painful remembered incident where I laid blame. Unsurprisingly, the blamed was highly offended when the web page was found. I discovered, at that time, I was not ready to engage in “who’s really right” histrionics again over inner wounds; I suspect I never shall. Conversely, I was also not willing to conflate that personal reluctance with an admission of wrongness. As the old saying goes, it’s amazing how often mature wisdom looks just like “too tired to bother.” ;)
I did not realize it at the time, but I was writing for the wrong reasons:
Memoirs that are written to glorify one’s victimhood, exalt one’s triumphs, claim affiliation with someone famous or reveal the frailties or peccadilloes of another for revenge may contain archetypal tendencies we all share — that of victim, hero or avenger — but unless there is self-reflection and a search for meaning, the writing lacks the depth of universal truth that underlies our search for meaning (Murdock 130).
It is that search for meaning, the self-reflection, which I missed in my web page of lamentation. Now I would know better, but at the time I was simply pouring out long-bottled-up grief without reflecting on whom it might harm, what it might mean, or how to prevent such pain occurring again in my life.
Through the writings of other memoirists, Murdock reassures herself regarding conflicting family memories, and by extension she offers a sop to her readers as well. One of her quoted memoirists has a particularly evocative phrase that catches my interest: “…so I could find a way of explaining the dirty, spastic glittering place I had in my mother’s heart” (Murdock quoting Slater 55). Is that how I appear to my partner in this dysfunctional relationship? I do not doubt there is something he believed to be love there, although equally I cannot seem to recognize it as such in his behavior.
Consequently I determined long ago I need not accept the picture of who I was which I saw in his eyes — but that left me having to find myself on my own. The above-quoted memoirist, Lauren Slater, “poses important questions about identify and truthfulness,” she “asks the reader to confront the veracity of the masks we each wear… challenges us to examine how we come to identify ourselves… ‘Why is what we feel less true that what is?'” (55). I am oddly relieved; I’ve been deliberately peeling back my masks over the past year or so, examining curiously who and what I find there, searching for my own truthful identity.
Slater continues, though, asserting that the “greatest lie of all is the feeling of firmness beneath our feet” (Murdock quoting Slater 56), that we must “surrender to the fact that there is really nothing solid in life we can count on” (Murdock 56); “we create all sorts of lies, all sorts of stories and metaphors, to avoid the final truth, which is the act of falling” (Murdock quoting Slater 56). I am not sure if I am supposed to be shocked and horrified by this; I am not, as my entire life has been an effort to fall gracefully. Is this unusual? Here is a truth worth joyfulness: if we create ourselves, our identities, then I need not be what has been projected upon me. In fact, I have a wondrous and unique opportunity to become, to be someone I can respect and honor… to mine own Self be true.
My current personal transformation also includes a search for an acceptable spirituality, as well as a re-visioning of my Self. Murdock quotes James Hollis, from his Archetypal Imagination,
Although we have lost our spiritual connection, we have not lost our spiritual desire. In the same way, although we are without gods, they have not disappeared (83).
It’s curious how often we look to spirituality once we’ve become weary of the organized religions’ rigid dogmas, but are still searching for meaning: “[M]any religious practices violate our instinctive wisdom” (Murdock quoting O’Reilley 90). This is a quest I’ve been making for the last few years, and it was a quiet joy to see Murdock recognized the spiritual, the sacred, in many of the same iconic symbols I did:
The institutional Church was not where I belonged. My spirit was too rebellious. I found the sacred in the trees, the creeks and the boulders of my childhood. And, as I later discovered, I was not alone in finding the land alive with soul (Murdock 87).