Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Memoir: A Guest Post by Kim Rich

Recounting her childhood as the daughter of a gambler and a stripper, "amid the denizens of Anchorage's nightlife--pimps, con men, gamblers, prostitutes, heroin addicts," Kim Rich's acclaimed memoir Johnny's Girl was made into a television movie.  Though Rich now lives in Texas, she returns to Alaska this summer for a retreat weekend of writing, teaching, and critiquing hosted by the 49 Alaska Writing Center. 

An M.F.A. writing student once quipped to me "90 percent of fiction is true and 10 percent of nonfiction isn't."  Wise words.  True?  In part.

Memoir writing is a search for  'what happened' and more importantly, 'why' it happened.  Why did one's parents fall in love?  Why did they marry?  What was it like when they had me?

Memoir writing is also a search for justice.  This can mean justice on a personal level or a societal level or even justice in the arena of the courts.  But true justice can only be obtained through an accurate and fair -- as much as possible -- exploration of the 'what happened' and again, the 'why.'

Memoir writing is often a journey into pain and loss.  Psychologists like to tell the theory of how those who suffer dysfunction in their childhoods will find a way to repeat that dysfunction in their adult lives as a way of saying, "See, it was OK what happened."  Memoir writing takes a sledgehammer to this notion of the past becoming prologue.  It's the writer saying 'the buck stops here.'  The pain needs to be done.

Memoir writing is also about exploration of true adventure and even joy.  Not all memories -- as children or as adults -- are riddled in loss.  What then would be the point?  Even with a seriously mentally ill mother and a father who was sometimes violent and later murdered, I found true happiness here and there; the first Christmas I could remember; my mom standing with me at the window, looking out into the night and her pointing and saying, "See, there . . . there goes Santa's sleigh."

And I believed with all my might. 

Memoir writing is a lot things, but one thing it is not.  It is not for the easily discouraged, those who wish to offend or hurt others, or those who wish to settle a score or even bury a hatchet.  It's none of these things.  It has nothing to do with catharsis, though this might be its outcome. 

Memoir writing is about courage even when the writer has no idea that's what's needed.  As one college professor pointed out: "It's OK to be afraid, it's what one does with fear that matters."

In the end, memoir writing is about confronting and overcoming fear.

Family mythology, the balance between fact and story, debunking and reinforcing inherited tales, and the motivation behind memoir writing are among the topics Rich will explore with local writers in "Memoir Weekend with Kim Rich."  The twelve-hour weekend retreat begins Friday, June 24 at 6:30 p.m.; the cost is $179 for members and $199 for non-members. 

1 comment:

Rebecca Tolley-Stokes said...

Darn. I'm in New Orleans when this workshop is offered. I enjoyed her memoir and hate missing an opportunity to meet and learn from Rich. I hope you ask her for a return engagement.