Don’t let your grandfather tell you that only people who have lead long and storied lives can write their memoirs. He just doesn’t know the difference between memoir and autobiography. Memoirs are bits of a life, while autobiography is the whole damn thing. Most of us, if we’re writing nonfiction, are writing memoirs.
So who cares about your little life and its struggles? No one. But don’t kill yourself yet, because I’ve got a little secret: If you write well about something, people will care. That’s all you need. The ability to write and the ability to form your story into a coherent (or gleefully incoherent) narrative. Make people give a shit. Capture the room. All eyes on you.
Let’s talk about Henry Beston. I love Henry Beston. He lived in a tiny cabin in the dunes of Cape Cod, and he wrote about sand. Who fucking cares about sand, right? Read this:
[Apologies, I can’t find my copy of the damn book, but I’m leaving this here as a teaser. Beston is a fantastic author. My mother kept a collection of Beston books by her bed after my father died, and read them when she couldn’t sleep.]
Let’s talk about motels with swimming pools. They might be interesting to families with kids on the road, but other than that, yawn, right? Not so much.
My father’s Depression-era upbringing and economic sense made a swimming pool seem like an extravagance. No matter that rates for a motel with a pool differed little, if at all, from one without….Day’s end would come. We four kids unstuck our shorts from the seat vinyl and ricocheted off the windows, anticipating liberation from hours and hours of Balkans-style interaction inside the station wagon. We cruised past motels with happy children splashing in sunny blue pools until we found the only motel in town without one. And there we stopped.
The family budget…exacerbated my longing for those cool polygons of turquoise…Some four decades later, liberated from paternal principle and family dole, I plot my vindication. I shall swim across the Mojave…The water looked like Xiuhtecuhli, the Aztec prince of turquoise, a name for the sun’s male color and for the jade skirt of the goddess of eternal renewel. The water was utterly turquoise across distance and utterly colorless in the cup in my hands..Small movements of my body scattered the mirror into a glossy, trembling web, which in turn cast complex acts of light on the pool floor. This moment in the water overwhelmed me with desolation and desire” (Ellen Meloy, Anthropology of Turquoise)
No one cares, unless your prose grabs them by the throat and makes them care. What writer has lead you care about things you never imagined you would?