I’ve been thinking about stories.
There’s a lot of memoir talk flying around right now. Is writing memoir “cheating”? Are memoirs lazy and narcissistic and opportunistic? Are they inherently dishonest due to their reliance on the flawed mechanism of memory? Why do memoirs now seem intentionally deceitful in greater numbers than ever before?
I found Daniel Mendelsohn’s “But Enough About Me” in The New Yorker to be insightful and educational. I found Taylor Antrim’s “Why Some Memoirs are Better as Fiction” in The Daily Beast to be fairly infuriating. And don’t even get me started on his hairdo in his author photo.
I’m not going to bother defending the genre of memoir here because my friend Stephen Elliott at The Rumpus does so with great eloquence in his response to Antrim, “Defending Memoir, or, The Problem with Taylor.” But I do want to try to field some of the thoughts that have been zinging around in my head and keeping me awake nights, as I prepare for the release of my own memoir while reflecting on the deaths this week of Howard Zinn and J.D. Salinger.
Both Zinn and Salinger had a profound effect on my life at different times, for different reasons. Like about twenty zillion other people, reading Salinger in high school made me feel less alone. Even if I felt dropped from an alien vessel into the lap of my family, there was a family to which I metaphysically belonged- the Glass family. Literature gave me a sense of connectedness, and my relationship with Salinger’s work typified this connection. Nine Stories made me want to write; it lit that little fire in me. Salinger emboldened me to enter my own words into the big dialogue that is writing, that is reading.
And Zinn bolsters me even now when I start to wilt. When I think- who gives a shit about my little story? Who am I to blather on with this self-involved mediocrity? Zinn tells me that that my voice is significant. That my struggle is relevant. That my story is the stuff of history.
And so is yours. So the next time you see me, tell me a story. Maybe it’ll be a story that changes the world.