Only small pieces of a life make an interesting memoir.” ~ William Zinsser
I’ve long been a fan of William Zinsser. His ‘On Writing Well’ is one of only a few print volumes I have on my shrinking physical bookshelf. The title pictured above is perhaps the best I’ve read on writing about one’s life. I’m reading it in preparation for a memoir I’ve been contemplating. I have an outline that fell into place -love when that happens- a few days ago.
In my book, The Practical Buddhist, I recounted several experiences in my life that led me to reject theistic religion in favor of non-belief and ultimately Practical Buddhism. Those sections weren’t written in any style that would be counted as a memoir. Although it contains elements of memoir, the book stands as a non-fiction solo work that sets forth the definition of Practical Buddhism and how I engage it in my life.
Memoirs can be autobiographical, but creative non-fiction as a style of writing is a much more enjoyable for the reader. It mixes the tools of creative fiction with actual life experiences. A friend suggested I use the Roman à clef model where the memoir is more a novel in which real persons or actual events figure under disguise. The idea has merit and I’ll certainly mull it over. However, while this book will be autobiographical, it will also be a kinder, more engaging treatment of its rather controversial subject.
The working title of the book at present is, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: One Man’s Journey from the Constraints of Religious Fervor to the Freedom of Non-Belief. My aim is to treat my subject fairly and truthfully without the need to invent experiences.
Why write this book? I come from a very conservative and religious family. My parents, children (two of the four), and several extended family members are practicing Christians and are very devoted to their faith. Each day when I open Facebook I am reminded of this by the posts and statuses that represent their views. I also have a large number of friends and acquaintances that share their faith.
I stand out as an anomaly in my family. I was once a fervent believer, an evangelical who believed most were going to hell. At about age 35 I awoke from what seems now like a dream state and was suddenly and overwhelmingly convinced that my life in the church was a false reality. My new was a reality was the result of a lifetime of experiences that left me puzzled with my own responses to social issues and basic humanitarian morals. My mantra became the pronouncement to attributed to Socrates’: The unexamined life isn’t worth living.
This sparked a decade of investigation, learning, reading, and listening to my heart. My life was forever changed by asking the big questions.
I’ve been openly and privately criticized for my views and my lack of belief in God, the church, and religion as a whole. I can be painful at times, but I’m largely immune to them. I was once guilty of holding the same views and making the same judgments. Perhaps this memoir is part atonement for my past actions.
The main reason to write this memoir is find and share the common ground to which we we can all lay claim and from which we can build enduring relationships.
As I get older, I mourn the loss of the common ground I once had with my family. While I can never return to my former views and beliefs -a mind stretched to new idea doesn’t return to its original shape- I hope that in this book I can create a dialogue based on real experiences that will help others understand instead of judge, open instead of insulating, and love instead of hate.
I will share bits of this book here on these pages as they evolve. Your comments and feedback will be appreciated.