I read a lot of memoirs. It’s a habit formed from my teenage years wanting to read everything I could about my obsessions- Adam Ant, The Stray Cats, The Smiths, The Pretenders and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I wanted all of my crushes to write down their life story then I could devour it and know everything about them. Stalker-esque? Yes, I know, but I was thirteen. I have calmed down these days, now preferring to read about the lives of ordinary people whose struggles teach me something or strike a chord. But, there are times when I do want to know about someone famous, someone I have identified with through their art, music, or creative work. I try and steer away from the biographies that are pulp for the masses and seek out those famous voices that write with literary genius. I can say, unequivocally, that Dear Mr. You, by Mary Louise Parker, was one that hit home. Written as a series of letters to the men in her life who shaped and molded, directly and indirectly, some of those men were completely on the fringes of her life. A love letter to an Indian boy who noticed her saw her in a way no one had. Rather than chose the obvious choice of lamenting her father’s illness, she chose to write to the young teenager, whose feet she only saw. in the bed next to her beloved father. The whole of the book is like this, an epistolary to the others, but written for the shapers of her life. It sounds like a gimmick, but it isn’t, at all. Instead, it provides a level intimacy, established immediately with the reader. It’s something I try and get my clients to do, establish intimacy with the reader, get them to care, to hold your hand when you need, to root for you when you are down. Ms. Parker does this seamlessly.
Another example of celebrity memoir that shines the light on just how creative one can be with their story is the book M Train, by Patti Smith. It is sublime. Much different from her first memoir, Just Kids, about her experiences meeting and knowing the mercurial Robert Mapplethorpe. M Train reads like a dream, something from another dimension. It is fragmented but connected with strange almost imperceptible elliptical connections. Sad and poignant, the author has lost her loves – her husband, and Mapplethorpe – and she walks through New York City noticing, remembering, projecting and wishing. We as the reader are walking with her, experiencing French Guinea, sitting under ceiling fans, drinking coffee. It is the book to read to see how creative you can be as you tell your tale. And it’s written by Patti Smith, whose voice is as timbre-pitched on the page as it on the stage.
As someone who works with clients to help them craft their story into something not just readable, but entertaining, I am in awe of Ms. Smith’s talent. I found myself copying down passages, to figure out how she was doing what she was doing. (I am still drafting and figuring it all out). She hides in coffee shops and writes scenes that leave the reader breathless and lost, but wanting so much more from her. Her writing moves through time and space without losing the reader, without losing the narrative and without losing the genius. It is a book I will read over and over again. Hoping to absorb her genius.
When I work with a client, I always want them to take risks with their story. I want them to delve into spaces of their life that are waiting to be found again. Reading a book like M Train or Dear Mr. You inspired me to keep testing the waters with memoir, so I can help my clients tell their story with creative courage.