Owning Your Story

I’ve been absent from this newsletter for some time. Life intervenes, as the saying goes, but because I am passionate about crafting stories from life, I thought I’d tell you a story about why I’ve been gone for awhile, and in that story you might find a reason to keep working on your memoir in this new year.

My brother died. Simple words. But he was my only brother. My only sibling. My big brother, a god in my mind—an image formed early as a little girl: he was so much taller, and he could make full sentences. He ran around the neighborhood, returning with rocks and feathers in his pockets and smelling of earth and trees. He was so much fun because he was always up to no good and he always charmed the neighborhood ladies to get out of trouble. How could I not fall in love young?

But more: He was the only living member of my family. The last one who knew the stories, the settings, the people, the only one who knew exactly what was meant if I said: Sheldon, or the Point, or the Old Barn, or the coons.

I imagine some of you have had this kind of ending in your life. It’s a trap door feeling, the bottom swinging out, and I wasn’t prepared for it. And so, this past year has been a steep climb up a steep hill, or what they call a “coming to terms.” As such things go, I’ve been tangled in the process of crafting a new story for my life, about what happens to all those stories once shared, and what the world means devoid of family.

Yet even now, at the end of this long year of silence, I have no tidy nugget of insight to share with you about all that. What I do know, and what I want to tell you has to do with your memoir: you must write it, and I emphasize you.

When my brother died, what I witnessed from the people around him further shocked me. The stories they told about him were not the stories of my brother! Not the brother I knew! They were not the stories I held in my heart about who he was in the world and what his life meant! I had a suspicion, too, that they were not the stories my brother would have told to corral the meaning of his adventures and challenges.

What I know is simple and pressing: If you want to assign the meaning of your experience, you must be the one to write it.

Because, I assure you, if you do not, other people will. They will craft the meaning of your actions and words. They will weave the narrative that goes out into the world and remains. They will be the author of your life, and chances are, it will not be the truth you know in your heart.