Lisa Dale Norton is an author and memoir editor. She works on manuscripts with writing clients and teaches at conferences nationwide.

Why We Write Memoir: A Manifesto for 2020, The Year of Seeing Clearly

February 1, 2020
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(Editor’s note: The views expressed in these columns are those of contributing writer(s) and may or may not reflect the views of Authorlink)

Recently I had an experience that shoots right to the heart of why women write memoir. I share it with you to illustrate just how small a memoir can be.

I live in Park Plazas in Santa Fe, an area managed by a Stephanie Davis-Namm, and a Board of Directors led by Richard White, President of RKW Enterprises, Auction Support Services. I tell you these details because all good memoir states the facts. This board of directors and their manager sent into my home a plumber they hired and vouched for, to install a water meter. The plumber was unprepared and hundreds of gallons of water flowed into my home. Park Plazas employee, Oscar Mendoza, sent to oversee the operation, walked alway and refused assistance. When reparations were requested, Davis-Namm and White disavowed responsibility for clean up. The Park Plazas employee and the plumber, both men, walked away without repercussions—and the Board of Directors, led by White, sidestepped. A woman, Davis-Namm, made it possible for each of these men to avoid responsibility for their actions.

               I tell you these facts because facts are at the heart of memoir.

I tell you these facts because they illustrate daily life for women across this country—small insults, big abuses. Over and over, men, the organizations they steer, and their functionaries, ignore, abuse, and take advantage of women—and people of color, and religious minorities, and gays, and elders, and on and on.

               That is why women write memoir.

“We write memoir to hold accountable those who are responsible.”

We write memoir to hold accountable those who are responsible. We write memoir because when one person speaks the truth, she opens the door for the next person to speak the truth.

That is how we change the world, a world with problems so mammoth it seems impossible to find solutions. It’s easier to lose oneself in social media than to figure out what to do. Where do I start? is a familiar refrain.

You start small. You start with your own life. You start by naming the small injustices because out of those acts grow the attitudes that lead to big injustices: assault and authoritarianism—big concepts, yet at root, products of one small choice after another, over time.

A memoir doesn’t have to be a book. It can be the story of an event. You state the facts and name the truth housed inside those facts. 

“#MeToo is just one big screaming memoir…”

The truth for millions of women, every day, is that if they had been men, their experiences would have gone differently. That is why women write memoir.

#MeToo is just one big screaming memoir, and thank the Gods. Finally. But when women throw women under the bus, as emissaries of men, they deserve an even hotter scalding. We expect men to dominate, but women perpetuating men’s patterns? Make no mistake, these are the women who keep the world stuck in the same-old-same-old for those who suffer the indignities of inequality. Like Davis-Namm, they cover for men; they do their bidding.

Women will write memoir for as long as it takes to get women like Davis-Namm to do the right thing, for as long as it takes to dismantle the forces that keep their pay below that of men, to get decent child care and clean water, equal education and affordable healthcare, for as long as it takes to disempower the men who abuse, and who wink at the abuses of their peers.

Whether it be water spilling into a home in New Mexico; a tainted drinking source in Flint, Michigan; the abusive behavior of a Supreme Court Justice; children locked up at our southern border; young black men shot in the cities of our democracy, it all starts in same place: small acts and tiny choices made by boards of directors, community representatives, office clerks, middle managers—brick-upon-brick—laying the foundation for a culture of dominance and disregard.

Women will always write memoir because we live in a global community that condones and protects white men of privilege and the systems they create to benefit themselves.

              Speak up, women.

             State the facts.

             Write your memoir.

Submit your stories of the small daily injustices for inclusion in Norton’s 2020 blog—The Year of Seeing Clearly. https://www.lisadalenorton.com.

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This post was written by Lisa Dale Norton

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