This blog was featured on 06/29/2019
How Many Times is Too Many?

I’m talking about the number of times I’ve read my own memoir, to be published by She Writes Press this October.

Husband and I live in a small town in Western Massachusetts. At our Saturday morning farmer’s market a local pig farmer sets up a grill and makes breakfast sausage sandwiches to order. The pork smell is too heavy and gamey for my delicate sensibilities but the sandwiches are stuffed with salad greens and look good. His customers grab their sandwiches and then stand in the middle of the thoroughfare, wolfing them down with glazed eyes. The pig farmer has a sidekick who makes exceptional scones and is studying to be a nurse. Probably she bakes the biscuits for the sausage sandwiches. Sometimes there is second young lovely, maybe the baker’s sister or her best friend, and sometimes a different one. Husband and I wonder to each other at all of the young women and we also wonder about the broad strokes of this lucky man’s domestic life.

Last summer Husband and I split one of the nurse’s ginger-apricot scones and then Husband praised it to her. She blushed a little and the farmer looked up from his grill briefly and said, “She likes a lot of praise.” All four of us laughed in recognition. After that morning, Husband’s code phrase indicating that I had talked enough about my memoir for that day became “She likes a lot of praise.” And I do. I’ve always been full of myself and I’ve always loved praise.

A Harmless Pleasure

I have read my own debut memoir more times than I can count. Each time, the praise I pour on myself is rich and loaded with superlatives and this seems like a harmless pleasure. I admit there are a few chapters I’ve started skipping. One longish chapter details the freakish secondary symptoms of my acute acquired chemical intolerance, mostly for the purpose of documenting this poorly understood disease for those who might suffer in a similar fashion. This chapter depresses me so I don’t read it anymore. There are two or three short chapters that exist primarily for continuity and these drag a bit for me. But the rest of the book delights me every time. I lick and nibble at each sentence, marveling at the importance of the messaging, the clarity, the subtle humor that comes from telling deep human truths, the less subtle humor that comes from referencing bowel movements! It doesn’t get any better than this, I think. When I was an accountant and wrote a lot of business emails, I did the same thing, going back days later to chew on a particularly graceful turn of phrase or complex concept described clearly. Blah blah blah, the recipients of these emails probably thought.

Writing Memoir

When I started writing the memoir, I knew I wanted to use my story to persuade my readers to be more wary of the common chemicals in their car interiors, or their consumer products, or their smelly junk mail. I didn’t know that the close study of my own life would allow me to solve mysteries at the heart of my family. I didn’t know that I would convince myself that these hidden truths were the determinants of the character and fate of not only me but also both of my parents and all three of my siblings. What I discovered through the exercise of writing the memoir was so huge that even now when I have trouble falling back asleep in the middle of the night, I use that quiet time to replay key memories and insights, wanting to reinforce my understanding and conviction.

Re-read Your Writing As Much As You Want

So it isn’t just that I like a lot of praise and that I like reading my own writing. It is that for a while at least, I need to study my own words again and again, like some people study the Bible. Maybe my book will never speak as strongly to others as it does to me, but I do hope that it does some good in the world beyond helping me to find the truth. My life before writing the memoir was built on misconceptions, confusion, and lies, and this book has helped me build a new life based on clarity. I grant myself permission to read it as many times as I want to.

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