• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I Knew I Was a Genius

I trashed last night’s post. All wrong. The response to Erin’s post was tremendous and I want to thank everyone who contributed. I have to admit that part of what fueled my desire to write a memoir was a feeling of competition. Any number of books on depression made me crazy because I didn’t feel they captured depression in a “true” way. I hated Darkness Visible. I wanted to stab myself in the heart after reading Girl, Interruped. Noonday Demon won like the National Book Award. Gah! There was one book about depression and therapy I loved, Mockingbird Years, but it was “quiet” and didn’t get much attention. It didn’t tart up depression. It got how deadening it is, how fucked up therapy can be. I felt I had done hard time, six months in the looney bin, a lifetime of seeking treatment, a parade of insane shrinks until I found Dr. Mas who saved my life with the right diagnosis and medication.

I was also tired of the anorexics getting all the attention. I knew my issues with food were less sexy (and I know anorexia is a nightmare), but I also believed that more people suffered from bingeing, yo-yo dieting, and the attendant self-disgust. And that it was probably worse for women for whom self regard and body image go hand in hand. I had tried to write about these things as fiction over the years with many false starts. Then, around my fortieth birthday on a train back from a cheese-filled trip to the south of France, I wrote the following words in my diary: Starting tomorrow. It was the clarion call of my life, it was when I would start living. After that, the thing nearly wrote itself. To use the cliche, I had found my voice. A lot of people have asked me if it was difficult to write. It wasn’t.

What compels you to tell your story whether as memoir or as fiction? What fuels you?

21 Responses

  1. Talking about this very subject at dinner last night with my wife and kids. Conclusion: Self-absorption, vanity, and an unquenchable, selfish thirst for fame.

    At least, that’s what *they* said.

  2. To make people laugh. To throw some hope around.

    To write words that make my brain go zing hoping that it makes your brain zing, too, so for just a little while we are holding hands.

    • Sally,

      I love this reply. You took the words right out of my mouth. Brilliant…”For just a little while we are all holding hands.” Nobbody is perfect. Isn’t that why we are all here? Isn’t that our bond?

  3. I loved Noonday Demon.

  4. I went to a big ASJA workshop in NYC for would-be memoirists and discovered that I was the only female there who did not want to write about my heartbreaking struggle against infertility (the guys wanted to write about their careers or about living on a sailboat). I write because I was the least boring person in that room full of wanna-be authors, which now that I think about it is a pretty lame reason to write but it’s too late now.

    I love that your book was born on a train ride from the South of France, I LOVE that your book was written to set the record straight. A sense of mission: that’s the best reason to write.

  5. Because They were so wrong.

    They said no one cared. They said we were shit out of luck. They said we should just carry on, and while we did that, we shouldn’t let it impact our lives.

    Then this guy in a clown costume, a volunteer at Children’s Hospital working off his guilt over his son’s death in a drunk driving accident, said, “What if they’re wrong. And if they are, don’t you sort of need to shout that?”

    Of course They were wrong. We’d been out of shit and luck long before that. It’s been finding a pair of underwear that won’t fall off my ass that’s been my downfall. (How hard is it to manufacture elastic that doesn’t wear out in a matter of days. Really.) And sometimes letting it impact your life is the most joyous thing you can do. So, I’m shouting.

    That’s why I’m writing my memoir.

  6. The day my caseworker delivered me to my foster home he said, “Be good.” Not, be happy, or do well, but be good. He meant—don’t piss anybody off. Charity cases can’t afford to be mouthy, they are inconvenient enough, taking up space they don’t deserve, in places they don’t belong.

    I write to right that wrong.

  7. Historical revision. I can revise it, make it what I want it to be. I have written about memories and since forgotten what was real and what was fiction/imagined. I have fabricated memories and mistaken them for real events. And “historical exorcism.” The idea that I can be free of it all. Write it down. Get it out, away somehow. “Deal with it” for once and for all, satisfactorily. Then move on. Deal with something else.

  8. I’m still not sure. Some kind of need – to please? to matter? to be heard?

  9. to figure it out. curiosity. for instance, i’m sittting on my back deck in the wilderness and the workmen are fixing a deck next door. i’m listening to them talk and this is their dialogue:

    “Don’t fuckin believe it.”


    “Fuckin MacLeod comes back to town last weekend. Course he waltzes past and heads right over to Mike’s place. Stays with him.”


    “Warner. You know him. MacLeod went in for some fuckin tests. Chest pains. Five hours on the treadmill. They wore him out, Christ’s sake. Fuckin Doctors.”


    “Hey. Pass me that fuckin level. Yeah. HIs boss drove him into Calgary for the tests. MacLeod says he didn’t drive under 100(mph) the whole fuckin way in and back. Christ. It’s a wonder MacLeod didn’t fuckin die.”

    who wouldn’t want to know about either the guy saying fuck all the time and MacLeod, with heart problems? who are these people?

    who am i?

    • rea,
      I loved this dialogue; I work in an environment where some of the people talk this way — can’t fuckin’ believe it, etc. I could picture you on your deck, hearing all this. (I was shocked at first, but realized for some folks it’s sort of a code — you speak like that, you belong to some sort of fraternity; you announce it; everybody knows it, who hears it; they “get” not to mess with the person unless they want A Problem.) It’s a bit of a warning, a “Stay clear!” like tattoos and piercings. It’s like, “Don’t even start with me; re-think it, dude.”

  10. I think I am taking the “chicken shit” way out. I started writing my memoir several years ago and then fictionalized it. It still isn’t published so I may very well change it again.

    Everyone tells me it is an unbelievable story because it was about finding out that I had two fathers, one that raised me and one who was my biological father. I only found out by meeting a woman six years ago who could have been my twin and ended up being my first cousin. I knew when I layed eyes on her that she was somehow a part of me.

    “You need to write that as a memoir.”

    Why? Why can’t I say it is based on truth but events, names have been changed? Why do we get so caught up with everyone elses rules? Do I have to?

    • Wendy, isn’t memoir less a case of “what happened” (however freaky it may be) than what-you-make-of what happened? Would readers care more if it were fiction than memoir? Somehow, I’d care more if it were memoir. That’s what August and I have been back and forth about.

  11. What better way than memoir to follow the dictum: write about what you know. We know ourselves, right? Or do we? In every reality there is more than one’s own perception. These differences in perception of reality are settled by duels, physical and/or verbal aggression, in courthouses, or go unresolved. That leaves us writing memoir about our version of reality.

    This blurred reality led an author friend to declare, “All memoir is fiction.” He included his own in this.

  12. >>What compels you to tell your story whether as memoir or as fiction? What fuels you?

    When I figure that out, maybe I’ll actually get it done.

  13. Because, as the poet Maxine Kumin says, “Our ground time here will be brief.”

    I’m writing to try to beat time at his tragic little game. To scratch my mark as deep as I can on the cave wall. To give my sons their mother. Oh, and for revenge. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that.

    And in regards to a previous (great) post on the “women’s” label in publishing, I’m writing a “women’s memoir” the way Janis sang “women’s rock and roll.” Take another little piece ‘o my heart now baby.

  14. My mother told me this story:

    My father wasa teenager when his mother was arrested for performing illegal abortions. It was a small town but somehow he talked the court into letting her go. He had just been drafted and something about a trade for service to country.

    Years later, shortly after my mother and father met, her mother said his name sounded familiar. Was it a family from school? Had she read it in the paper?

    Maybe it was a moment of weakness. Maybe secrets weren’t secrets for long in this family, even then. Either way, she told.

    She had been to see his mother once… a long time ago. It was the Depression. There were four mouths to feed and no room for another. She had no choice.

    Back at a time when both were fighting to survive, my grandmother performed an abortion on my other grandmother. The words were almost unfathomable. Not because I blamed them, but because I understood.

  15. “What compels you to tell your story whether as memoir or as fiction? What fuels you?”

    When I started out, many more years ago than I may care to say, it was to make my life matter. I was barely more than a child then. It was a long time before I realized that wanting to make my life matter was a lousy reason to subject anyone to my scrawlings.

    So it became about trying to make art, which is much more difficult than the child who wanted to matter ever could have imagined. But if I can write a piece that even one person other than myself reads and responds to by saying, “Wow, I’m glad I read that,” then I have done my job. Any more than that is icing on the cake.

    I do like icing. And cake. I stay in the kitchen every day, mixing and cooking.

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