Unreliable Truth: On Memoir & Memory
by Maureen Murdock
I find myself wondering, as I read, what was Murdock’s solution to her loss of faith within the Roman Catholic Church — is it applicable to my situation as well? I am faintly amused at the thought: clearly her efforts to appeal to a universal human truth within her memoir are touching me as well. Like Murdock, I too did not relate to “god” as Father or Son; unlike her I was indignant at women being nearly forcibly shoved into the roles of either sexless nun or patiently personality-less mother. Neither appealed.
I find Murdock’s quotations often fascinating or enlightening, as when Kathleen Norris is referenced regarding the search for the sacred, referring to it as more truly a search for location:
I suspect that when modern American ask ‘what is sacred?’ they are really asking ‘what place is mine? What community do I belong to?’ (92).
As someone who had moved nine times by the time I reached my 18th birthday, I can certainly relate. I was asked once where my home town was — where was I from? I replied, “Which year?” I didn’t immediately understand their confusion and annoyance at my apparent dissembling — my answer had been quite sincere:
I’ve been a foreigner for the past twenty years. I don’t have roots any more. My roots are in my memory and my writing. That’s why memory is so important. Who are you but what you can remember?
— Isabel Allende (quoted by Murdock 97).
Yes, exactly: who I am is what I chose to remember; what I write of my Self. I need to be gentle with myself as well as to figure out who I am. I take another step in that process as I read Murdock’s personal revelation regarding her mother and herself:
Until her death, I had never admitted to myself the part I played in the difficulties in our relationship. My mother was a convenient hook upon which I had hung all my fear, anger, and desire… I had tried to understand her and protect myself from her for years and had waited, like so many children do, for some acknowledgment of her culpability. Instead, I found myself asking for her forgiveness (75).
I have surely psychologically projected as much as I have been projected upon. If I can gently refuse the unpleasant projections I do not wish — feckless liar, undependable, fat, lazy, never planning ahead — then surely I can also refuse to project as well — to instead place responsibility (but not necessarily blame) where it truly belongs.
The fundamental premise of memoir writing is a belief in the restorative power of telling one’s truth; once told, the writer can begin to move on with her life (81).
Taking ownership of all my own issues: what a concept! How powerful of me! In a sudden burst of revelation, I am elated. Suddenly my partner in dysfunction, who loomed so terrifyingly, so overwhelmingly… becomes small and nearly insignificant. The life-shattering issues he represented seem, to me, to shrink as well: they are simply mine. Instead of overwhelming me, it is I who encompass them now. Since I am their manager, I can craft a plan to deal with them, to resolve them and make them go away. I am, after all, just as powerful as I believe I am.
Like Murdock, the essence of my writing is an effort to aid myself in my struggle to make meaning from my life. She favors memoir; my preference is introspective reviews and the occasional Firestarter for subjects which I find truly thought-provoking. As she notes,
[T]he secret is to tell your particular life story so that it adds to our collective understanding of what it is to be human. … Whether you write to recover what was lost, heal a relationship, discover a secret, write your memoir and read it aloud to another, you will hear your own truth. And truth transforms (Murdock 111, 118).
That is precisely my goal, in my Firestarters: to communicate a small bit of my life clearly, evocatively; to offer any enlightenment I’ve received for others to share in as well, in the hopes they too see the world just a little more effectively or joyously.
In the process of reviewing Murdock’s book, I’ve been drawn into thought-provoking personal consideration, and my absorbed self-reflection as I write has even pulled me from past tense into present. Further, I’ve reviewed personal truths such that I actually had a small epiphany! I am quietly delighted. While I cannot say if I’ve added to the collective understanding of what it is to be human, I do feel closer to better knowing myself, and I continue to reach for further inner transformation.
I am faintly surprised at my sudden internal realization: all this, from musing on Murdock’s book while writing a review? I am both impressed and pleased; this has been extraordinarily efficatious writing, at least for me. I’ve enjoyed being subtly coaxed into both more effective personal writing, and a bit of emotional growth. This book accomplishes its goals excellently; I highly recommend it.