I‘m at University for the sole (soul?) purpose of writing a memoir. I want to tell you what happened when I gave up dieting, left my marriage and fell in love. But here’s the problem ~ I’m struggling big time.
A memoir is meant to make sense of the things that happen in someone’s life. My life makes no sense. When I ask the question “why” I get no answers. Why did I endure a loveless marriage for almost sixteen years? Why did I lose my voice and become a cold and brittle version of my real self? Why did I fill my life with goals that I pursued relentlessly only to be dissatisfied when I reached them? And why did everything around me go so horribly wrong when I was just beginning to awaken from my slumber?
I have realised that asking “why” is one of the worst things you can do.
There is a story of a woman who loses her car keys that illustrates what happens when we get caught up in the question of why.
A woman was about to head out for a lunch date with her friend when she discovered her car keys were nowhere to be found. She looked everywhere for them. She phoned her friend for help. Her friend said “Look in the kitchen drawer.” She searched inside that drawer in the kitchen that is filled with pens and batteries and all manner of things that might be useful one day (otherwise known as the really useful drawer). The keys weren’t there.
“It’s no use,” the woman cried, “my keys are lost forever. I can’t find them and my friend doesn’t know where they are – it’s hopeless. Why did this happen to me?”
Her head filled with negative thoughts — she was too lazy to put them away in the right place, she was disorganized and irresponsible, she couldn’t even do this one simple thing correctly … and the self-blame went on and on. Maybe it was her friend’s fault. Her friend had told her to look in the wrong place. Obviously, her friend wasn’t a friend at all; she was only pretending to be helpful while secretly laughing at the woman. Or perhaps the woman was being punished – after all, she should be vacuuming the floors rather than wanting to have a glass of wine with her friend in the middle of the day.
And she stopped searching for the keys.
When we indulge in following the path of “why” we usually end up either blaming ourselves or blaming someone else. It stops us in our tracks. We are no longer capable of taking action, of continuing to look for our keys and find the way out of our predicament because we start focussing on the wrong thing. The distressing circumstances are either our fault, someone else’s fault or the fault of an omnipotent being who delights in making our lives miserable.
It doesn’t matter “why” something happened. Let it go. Just move on and take action, take the next step, keep looking for the keys somewhere else.
That’s what I’m doing. I’m not worrying about trying to work out “why” my life unfolded the way it did, instead I’m writing about what happened, how it happened, and what action I took when I did.
Why did this happen to you? It just did.
Now what are you going to do about it?
14 thoughts on “Confession time : my book is f*cked”
I have been caught up in “whys” for the past almost-year and this post so eloquently illustrates why I have also felt stuck…thank you.
You’re welcome ~ so glad to be of help ~ stuckness sucks!!
OMG-You won’t believe this-but this is exactly what I did while journaling toay-I asked why I drank. Of course I end up with excuses mainly (like you point out-blaming)-there is no answer, but we can’t help but ask. I guess the question is, will the reader ask why? hmmmm….
I don’t think that the reader will ask why – mostly because their experience of the world is different to yours. They will want to see the things that happened to you before and after that resonant with them, how you dealt with the situation and what triggered your recovery. In some ways, the how and the what explains the why without us even knowing it …
Yes-that sounds about right. And frankly, I feel like by trying to answer the why question-I give way to much energy to the whole negative experience. 🙂 But sometimes we have to go there to at least get to the rest of the experience-all part of the writing journey. Just need to not get hung up-take the buddhist path and acknowledge it then move on. sometimes easier said than done-but the intent is there!
Whenever I’ve been become (un)stuck during a writing task, I remember the advice I was once given, “show – don’t tell”.
It may not help you, but it’s helped me over the years 🙂
I agree that is perfect advise for fiction or a narrative where the story is all there is. But in a memoir or a personal essay (and blogging) there is reflection and questions which put the author in a telling mode. We want to know how she felt about these things and what she learnt. Exposition is equally as important and trying to answer the “why” questions often gets us bogged down and stuck.
Too true! I think giving undue meaning to events makes us stuck in our heads. I find I need to stop thinking about ‘why’ it happened and what it meant and just learnt to enjoy the ride.
I really appreciate how you dissect it. Also, I can’t wait to read your book.
Cheers Halley ~ enjoying the ride is what it’s all about 😀 It is also funny how we don’t spend days agonizing over why good things happen to us without any reason, it’s just the bad things we want answers for …
And it’s the bad things that stick out the most-ugh! :-0
I can’t write for shit so i appreciate anything that comes from you Katie!!!!!!!
I’ve been following you my love and have enjoyed every moment of it, I just LOVE how much you have changed since our days hanging out together at 630am, smoking durries, talking shit – hahaha how life has changed xxx
Welcome back gorgeous Ferny. Things have indeed changed. Who would have guessed? I’m so glad you’re happy and that little bubba is getting bigger xxx
I don’t usually question why bad things have happened to me. My ridiculously stupid choices over the years are the obvious reason. I tend to question, and even fear, the good things. WHY does my luck seem to be changing for the better? WHY are good things happening to ME? I haven’t done anything to deserve them, and there are amazingly good people who do deserve it, but suffer so much. It scares me that the luck scale will get too heavy on the “good” side and have to right itself w/ something amazingly bad.
Interesting point — I’ve never thought about the good things. For me, good things are the norm and bad things mean something is wrong. In actual fact — both things happen to us and there is no real rhyme or reason, that’s why life is such an adventure! I think gratitude is the key — giving thanks for all things.
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