Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir

By Sue William Silverman | Go to book overview

Chapter Nine
Confessional and
(Finally) Proud of It

Until I write the past it flickers in my mind’s eye, ghostly, like an old newsreel. In black-and-white photos of my Russian ancestors—photos that survived a boat trip from the Old Country to the New World—faces fade as if they’ve aged while sitting in cardboard boxes. Even color Polaroids of volcanic mountains, snapped when I lived in the West Indies, seem cast in a pinkish sheen. As chemicals disintegrate, this part of my life seems tinted by raspberrycolored fingernail polish. I leaf through family albums, but no one appears distinct. No one seems ever to have been fully alive.

For years, my life resembles these snapshots: faded and onedimensional.

Then, I pick up a pencil. Slowly, I wake. I blink and inhale. Exhale. Finally, I choose to examine my past. Finally, it’s more a relief to write my life than ignore it, a relief to develop a clear focus and vision. “To write one’s life is to live it twice,” Patricia Hampl explains, “and the second living is both spiritual and historical.”

The first life isn’t fully lived, fully seen or understood, until we write it.

I’ve been asked: Isn’t it painful to write about the past, all those scary childhood memories?

Writing about pain is painful—but it’s also a profound relief. With

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