Telling Stories

Are memoirists selfish? Occasionally, after reading “Trapped: My Life With Cerebral Palsy” a reader may comment with a wistful sigh, that they don’t get to discover much about the other members of my family. Do they gaze quizzically into the middle distance and suppose they are dealing with a narcissist? Self-obsessed at least….the reflection may leave them wondering…

Memoirists don’t even have to claim to be accurate, for goodness’ sake! They can just bring a whole pile of memories to the table, and, so long as they are “what I experienced” they are allowed their own creative licence. No poring over volumes in the dusty halls of academe, no flights to far-flung Istanbul to track down long-lost relatives whom you recognise vaguely, but can scarcely speak to, as they stand before you patting your hand and remembering the way it used to be, before your grandmother left home….

There are indeed many other telling stories wrapped in with a memoir, waiting to be told. But the subject of a memoir has to wade into the past gently, finding a way through which leaves the bulk of other people’s recollections untouched, while benefiting from them enough to provide context, depth and explanations. I have no right to tell the story of anyone else’s life, and so I must leave other people’s life strands almost entire and alone, respecting the privacy of their memories, trials and tribulations and not using or abusing them to gain extra attention.

Deciding what to write about, and what to omit, has become, for me at least, an exercise in honest self-control; and if I aim for that, I will probably not go too far wrong. That is what I have always tried to do, at any rate, so that if anyone has an objection, I can at least be clear that I was doing my best to recount my story in my own way, with no other objective than to finally tell my truth. Not a bad aspiration, actually, for a day’s work.

Jules Breton - La Glaneuse Lasse
Jules Breton – La Glaneuse Lasse

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