Under most circumstances, I am not an anxious person. But these aren’t ordinary times. In just another few weeks, my memoir will be published (As Alone As I Want To Be; Adelaide Books, 2018), a literary vein-opening. I am experiencing honeymoon jitters. How will it be received? How will I feel about the inevitable criticism?
It’s not your average memoir. There’s no rape, murder, incest, abuse—the kind of catastrophic drama that sells books. I’m not crazy or neurotic. On top of those impediments, it’s written in a series of essays. There are through-lines, to be sure, but none of the usual name/rank/serial number kind of work so the reader can follow my life in that way. What will keep the reader engaged? Is growing up a feminist pioneer in a conventional society enough?
This isn’t my first attempt to write about my life. More than 30 years ago, I wrote an autobiography (Almost Famous: In and Out of Show Biz; Westgate Press, 1986). It was written in that familiar and conventional format—when I was born and where, tracking my eventful life chronologically. At the time, I was a clinical psychologist in private practice and a media psychologist, necessarily more cautious than I am now. I was concerned about my clients’ reaction to some of the revelations but only one had anything resembling criticism. And, surprisingly, the book was picked up as a secondary text by a college on the East Coast for a Psychology of Women class. It sold better than I thought it would.
Now, with most of the major players dead, I have opted to disclose more of my emotional truths. If there was a chance anyone might be hurt, I changed the names to protect them (and me from litigation). And it’s all pretty much here—the mistakes, the failures, the triumphs, the preoccupations, the primary relationships, the hopes, the fantasies, the melancholia.
I never would have gone another round with this adventurous life story were it not for the demands of my MFA program. Spitting out the required 25 pages a month was remarkably easy. It was hard to hold back as the emotions and stories just kept pushing themselves out. When essays from the book were published in literary magazines, the feedback was encouraging. Some commented on the events, others on the irreverent wit that often accompanied them. People could identify with my life and its travails. But the reader response was to a single essay, not a book filled with them.
More to the point, what do I hope to accomplish, anyway?
A friend said the worst thing he could imagine was that no one would read it but I disagree. Because all but two of the 23 essays have already been exposed to the unforgiving light of publication, many have read what I have to say. Nobody died. Then what’s the anxiety about?
Everyone has secrets, things they don’t want others to know. We all manufacture an image not only to others but to ourselves. With the publication of this memoir, however, my life is quite literally an open book. There is little of importance I have not disclosed and dissected for public consumption. Oddly, I am comfortable with that. Equally unexpected, I find that merely the publication is enough for me at this point in my life.
So perhaps what I am calling anxiety is an eagerness to take this leap into the unknown one last time. I understand that some will find value within its pages, others may not. One of the themes of the memoir is the development of a strong internal locus of control. Thus, the audience I really need to please is myself, the toughest critic of all. If I am happy with the work—and I am—than responses will be welcome. If they’re constructive, they’ll help with the next project.
Life is lived on a threshold. Bring it on