All memoirists write about their strengths. They sprinkle anecdotes highlighting their intelligence and humor and generosity throughout the narrative. These stories are fun to share, and they’re (usually) true. It makes sense – it’s a reasonable approach to follow.
But where are the other stories?
The completed memoir should reflect the totality of who we are – bright and sunny, dark and stormy, and of course many shades in between. Recently the New York Times published a tongue-in-cheek column featuring fictional obituaries of imperfect, imaginary people. The idea, I assume, was to personalize the recently departed, who seem to evolve from flawed-human to faultless-saint the second their heartbeat stops. Here’s a sampling:
· “David Meldrick, 68, of Rahway, N.J., died peacefully at home, surrounded by his beloved family, on May 2. Mr. Meldrick was perhaps best known for never picking up a check.”
· “Laurene Fitzhugh, 78, of Parsippany, N.J., died May 3 at her home. A community activist and dedicated volunteer in her church, Ms. Fitzhugh was perhaps best known for saying, “I don’t need an entree, I’ll just have a taste of yours.” She had no survivors.”
· “Denise Pantuso, 84, died at home in Bethpage, N.Y., on April 14 after a short illness. A devoted wife and mother, Mrs. Pantuso was perhaps best known for always missing the point.”
We all know these kinds of people, but somehow these kinds of words never make it into their obituaries.
The article reminded me of a scene from Good Will Hunting, when Sean (Robin Williams) counseled Will (Matt Damon) to pursue another date with a young lady even if a second get-together risked scarring her “perfect” image:
“My wife used to fart when she was nervous. She had all sorts of wonderful idiosyncrasies. You know what? She used to fart in her sleep….She's been dead two years and that's the s*** I remember. Wonderful stuff, you know, little things like that. Ah, but, those are the things I miss the most. The little idiosyncrasies that only I knew about. That's what made her my wife. Oh, and she had the goods on me, too, she knew all my little peccadillos. People call these things imperfections, but they're not, aw, that's the good stuff.”
When you write your life story, be sure to discuss the qualities that define you. If you’re kind, give readers examples of your kindness. If you’re strong, give readers examples of your strength.
But include your weaknesses, your foibles, your “good stuff” too.
Make yourself human.