“To write a good memoir you must become the editor of your own life, imposing on an untidy sprawl of half-remembered events a narrative shape and an organizing idea.”
William Zinsser
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

Ok, folks – hey, is anyone out there? 😉 –  it’s time to delve into some of the hard stuff.  One of the major barriers I’ve hit the last few months has been in respect to writing about deeply personal things about my family or the traumatic events I’ve experienced.  I get writer’s block every time I sit down to write about what’s really happened because it’s one thing to talk to friends about stuff, and a whole other feat to make those events into static pictures, just leaving them hanging out there for anyone to look at (to read about) at any time.  More importantly, I want to write honestly, but I know I’ll have to write about some things that will not shed the best light on some people.  Will I hurt my family members’ feelings?  Will they be mad at me for what I write?  Will I be judged? Will people believe all of the stories?  Will my friends see me differently? Will it look like I’m just complaining? Will it sound stupid once I put it all on paper? 

It’s fairly easy for me to write pieces that allude to or to brush over painful events and skip straight to the silver lining part…but at some point I’m going to need to put things plainly.  At some point I’ll have to mention the abuse, the rape, the divorce, the injuries, the depression, the deployments, the harassment, the PTSD, because they’re part of the story.  I don’t plan to pen every last detail of these events because “memoir isn’t the summary of a life; it’s a window into a life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition” (Zinsser). Besides, you, the reader, don’t really want every single detail anyway.
Before I launch some of these more personal pieces, I need to express a few things so I don’t spend a paragraph or two every entry qualifying what I’m about to write.  To anyone who’s reading and really cares about me, my family, the lessons I’ve learned, or the concepts I’m striving to capture, know a few things that underlie anything I write from here forward:
–          I am not perfect.  I have made major mistakes.  Just because I have genuinely made my peace with everything I’ve done or everything that’s happened to me (yes, even the rape), doesn’t mean I think I did everything perfectly in the past.  Also, I’m sure I will forget some events, oversimplify others, and otherwise (according to others) misrepresent them at times.  But this is my memoir.
–          I love my family.  I would do anything for them. I love spending time with my parents, my sister and her kids, and my brother.  I have another sister that I don’t speak to anymore but I don’t hate her or wish anything bad upon her at all; our non-relationship just finally reached a point where it wasn’t something I could have in my life anymore because of her incessant lying.  I don’t need that negativity in my life, so I’ve chosen to step away from it for now.
–          For all the “mistakes” (it’s in quotes because isn’t even the idea of seeing something as a mistake subjective?) my parents have made, they are wonderful parents.  They are people I look up to; they are people other people look up to.  Nothing I say should discount their tenacity for life, their good souls, their intellect, their humor, their love.  I think I turned out alright – both because of them and in spite of them.
–          For all the ups and downs my sister, Becci, and I have struggled through, I love her wholeheartedly.  I hope we continue to grow as people and as sisters for years to come. On top of how much I love her, I love her children more than I could’ve ever imagined loving someone else’s kids.  They are awesome kiddos!
–          My friends are my treasures.  As with family, we’ve gone through some of the same events together, but I will have undoubtedly seen them differently than you; know that I do not discount any of your feelings about these things because of how I express mine.  As the wise Lainie Allen told me during one of the darker times in my family history, where I felt like I was on an island, “It’s not a coincidence that you have as many friends as you do.  God didn’t leave you stranded.  He provided you with amazing people in your life who love you dearly and support you.  Sarah, your friends are the family God gave you.” 

[paraphrased] I agree

“It’s your story – you’re the one who has done all the work.  If your sister has a problem with your memoir she can write her own memoir, and it will be just as valid as yours; nobody has a monopoly on the shared past.  Some of your relatives will wish you hadn’t said some of the things you said, especially if you reveal various family traits that are less than lovable.  But I believe that at some deep level most families want to have a record left of their effort to be a family, however flawed that effort was, and they will give you their blessing and will thank you for taking on the job.  If you do it honestly and not for the wrong reasons.”   Zinsser

family vacation
West Palm Beach, FL
Mom, Matt, Becci, Rachel, me, Dad
August 2006