You must feel so exposed. I’ve been hearing a lot of that lately. At readings, at speaking engagements, or even from friends and acquaintances. How does it feel to have exposed so much of yourself? Honestly, the question itself makes me feel…well…exposed. But having written two memoirs and dozens of personal essays over the years, I have to say that I do not feel like I’m running down the street naked. Or that people have somehow gotten their hands on my diary. In fact, quite the opposite. How to explain this?
Life, as we live it, is a messy, sometimes chaotic, rambling, shapeless thing. Even as we try to shape it–with holidays, schedules, routines, rituals–still, it remains just outside our grasp. We can have the illusion of control, but we are not, in fact, in control of our lives–it’s one of the most complex and vexing facts of being human. Life comes at us–it keeps coming at us, constantly changing, shifting, just when we least expect it. This too, as the great Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield says. This too, this too, this too. But when a writer sits down to write memoir, one of the extraordinary, hidden gifts of that process is that through the craft itself, through the shaping, forming, editing, pruning, thinking, that writer is–for that brief moment–in the driver’s seat. With all the time in the world at her disposal, the writer is creating order out of chaos. Clarity out of confusion. A memoir is not a diary. Diaries (unless they are meant for publication) are like garbage cans, collecting the detritus, the trash, the ramblings of a mind trying to sort itself out. I would die if someone were to read my diaries. But when a reader writes to me about Devotion, or a young woman comes up to me to talk about Slow Motion, or I stand in front of a group of people who have read my work, I feel something powerful, something that has nothing to do with exposure. It has to do with connection. Of one soul reaching out to another soul as the poet Jane Kenyon once wrote, and saying I’ve been there too.