Remember when I asked for advice on a topic for a memoir symposium
? I was asked, invited, to contribute to a group writing project. It has very (very) loose parameters. I just need to write about a real-life experience. That's pretty much the sum total of the project brief.
I had a lot of time to settle on a topic and write it.
So, this is why I'm not a real writer.
I cannot swutting choose a topic.
All your ideas were great, thank you. I thought I was too close to the material and some unbiased, outside opinions would point me in a good direction.
I've started at least 20 versions on as many topics.
I have dedicated evenings, set aside specific hours, and devoted time and thought to this. For instance, right now I'm supposed to be focusing on choosing a topic and organizing (yet another) outline.
I'm blogging instead because I'm thinking maybe writing about writing will give me some clarity and lead to an epiphany.
Mainly I just have to settle down and settle on a topic. The rest will fall into place.
I'm not staring down the
deadline, but I am staring down my self-imposed deadline. I wanted the thing written by next week.
This project is supposed to be fun. But it's also an honor and a privilege to be asked to join the project, and that's the facet that's causing the indecision. I want to get this right. And not look like an idiot. Which is unusual for me because I'm generally not concerned about whether or not I look or sound like an idiot. (I live on the assumption that I am, most of the time, an idiot, so why fight it or worry about it?)
Adding to the pressure are all the Twitter posts from the other contributors. They're posting excerpts and making comments about how wonderful, insightful and enriching the project is for them. And I'm sitting here with 20+ false starts and no decision on subject matter.
I'm starting to suspect the crux of the issue is that, while I'm open and not afraid to lay my soul to bare for the entire Universe to read, there is an emotional boundary that I'm not ready or willing to shatter. At least publicly. I know how that sounds, coming from me
, but blogs are different. Part confessional, part rant, blogs offer catharsis. And anonymity. Sure, you know a lot about me. But you don't know me in real life. A blog is a cyber burqa that allows me freedom to roam openly in public while protecting my modesty. It's easy to say anything when no one knows who you are. I'm really just a coward who can't afford professional therapy. I still have no idea why you
read it (but thank you), but you choose
to visit, I presume of your own free will. (Whose crazier? The lunatic who writes their lunacy as catharsis, or the people who willingly read the writings of a lunatic? I'm honestly asking, not pointing fingers.)
This memoir project, on the other hand, is a different situation. People will read it as part of a group of memoirs written by some really, really good writers. Older writers, younger writers, people with some fantastic life experiences. Memoir-worthy life experiences. Inspiring, educational, sentimentally rewarding life experiences. Me? Not so much.
And that, I believe, is compounding the issue. I don't mind telling you that I'm a loser who couldn't find and keep a man, ditto a job, ditto a home, ditto pretty much everything else in my life. I don't care that you know that about me, in fact I'm glad you know that about me. And I don't really care who else knows that about me...but...the point of a collection of life-stories is to provide insight and inspiration. The sad reality about my life is that the only take-away, the only inspiration it spawns is: Do not do what I did. Yes. My life is a cautionary tale. And I'm okay with that, but in the context of a memoir project where all the other contributions are uplifting and sweet and joyous, or at least insightful and educational, my cautionary tales don't really fit in with the group. And that, of course, is the story of my life. Oh the irony.
In hindsight, now, I never would have agreed to participate in the project. I thought that I thought it through, I thought it would be fun (which is what it's supposed to be) but now I'm regretting that I accepted the invitation to participate. It's not
fun for me. It's forcing me to look at my life, from start to now, to find one good life experience to share, and all I'm finding are cautionary tales, words of warning.
I'm trying a different approach. I'm working backwards, reviewing possible take-away lessons or positive emotional responses, and then selecting a life experience that spawned it. Seems like a good idea, right? Well. Not so much.
"Pay attention in school, study hard, take initiative and work on extra projects, get good grades," seems like a decent, inspirational message, right? Normally, yes, it would be. Positive things will happen as a result. Usually. Except for me. Where did all that thirst for knowledge, extra credit assignments and good grades get me? Unemployed and homeless and a spinster. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for education and intellectual pursuits.
"Listen to your heart, set goals, follow your vision," is good advice, right? I think so. Except. That's exactly what I did. And where did it get me? Unemployed and homeless and a spinster.
"Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Be kind. Love unconditionally with compassion and gusto." Also very good advice. Except. That's what I do. And where did it get me? See where this is going?
How can I offer up any life experience as a positive, inspiring memoir when every aspect of my life is an abysmal failure? I haven't exactly triumphed at anything that matters.
When the invitation to participate was extended to me, I did
think about a lot of this. But I didn't think it through as fully as I should have before agreeing to participate.
I'm honestly thinking about using the experience of trying to write about a life experience as my life experience. Not exactly inspiring, but certainly educational, the lesson being, "Don't bite off more emotional baggage than you can handle if you can't afford professional therapy."