I’ve just finished Stephen Levine’s book, A Year to Live. It is about how to live this year as though it was your last. Morbid? Not really. Doesn’t everyone occasionally want to skip to the end? Even if just for a quick, curious glimpse?
In the book he makes a few statements that are truly about memoir. He writes, “We untangle the present by unraveling the knots of the past. Remembering the etymological root of “nostalgia” is a “reminiscent pain,” we do not hold on to the past but relieve it of its burden.”
Nostalgia contains the knowledge that we can not go back and relive a moment we loved so much – a birthday, a day in the park, a loved ones’ touch. It can also just be the bittersweet awareness of time passing.
While nostalgia focuses on remembering the pleasure of the past, anxiety is the word I would use for the expectation of the future. We hope that the future will bring new things and our desired predictions will come true. I think that we also hope that the future will take away the pain of the past. The future is an unknown salve to the wounds that have already been incurred.
If you only had a year to live, how can you use memoir to begin to untangle your toughest knots?
Memoir is like a massage for your psyche – Take the time to delve into your life and privately express your truth. Massage is a powerful metaphor – it is just you naked on that table trying to relax and let go.
Memoir is a tool for working with yourself – Stand in the now, and feel where you are in your journey. Feel the path under your feet and make any course corrections you may need. “A Year to Live” is a book about leading a contemplative year of consciously feeling…the place you live, your relationships, the taste of your food, and then even deeper – your life’s longing.
Memoir is about writing into the uncomfortable places, pinning them down and letting them go so you can prepare for the new in your life. Get into the tough areas because they will only get worse with time, causing more injury and pain.
Memoir is a way of thinking, of using prompts to process the past so that you can understand how you “really” felt. Not what you were told to feel, or how you “should” feel.
Memoir is accepting our flawed humanity and the passage of time. We don’t get video game “do-overs” or science fiction time travel machines. We write in a nod to our past and for clear eyes for the future.