• Sara Reeves

Cheeky Guide: write your own memoir (seriously, do it)

As a university student in the creative industries, memoir has been one of the many subjects that I’ve had to take a better look at. Being only 19, the terms ‘memoir’ or ‘biography’ feel like something to think about much further down the line when I’ve experienced more than just high school and some university.

Early last year, I had an experience involving someone’s car crash that shook me to my very core. My reactions were not what I expected of the situation, either. Where I should have been sad, I was completely neutral. I was angry at the driver, my best friend, where I shouldn’t have been – or expected to be. I realised the repetitive trauma I had experienced numbed me in a way that was less than healthy.

In my creative non-fiction class, I was asked to write a piece of non-fiction (duh) for my final assessment. I chose the crash. Writing that piece was the first time that I had cried about the accident since its occurrence. It felt like the catharsis I had been waiting for since the first moment I heard that there even was an incident. I was able to retell the events, understand them and why I didn’t look for him when he was first announced missing. I realised my negative expectations, and sought to fix them in order to help myself breathe a little easier.

Having experienced such an event, memoir made sense. However, this year – as per my course outline – I was put into a class specifically for memoir, and nothing ‘new’ had happened. I was struggling to figure out what I was going to write about.

I thought that the only use I had for memoir at my age was to help ease and overcome trauma, until I was at work one day and I met an older Greek lady. She started off her conversation with me by talking about the colourful jewellery we had in store, saying how happy it made her because it was a reminder of the items she would see at markets when she was a child. I, with my deep interest in culture (and wanting to get out of doing actual work), was obviously intrigued by this, and asked her to elaborate further.

Forty minutes went by, as we spoke about her childhood in Greece and the family that she now has living in Australia, with a particular focus on a story about a little plastic purse she bought as a child that she wore until it fell to pieces. Literally.

She showed me photos of her brother, and the rest of her family. Nearing the end of our conversation, she mentioned that she was currently writing a piece of memoir about her Greek childhood for her son, so he could have a piece of her stories to keep with him even when she was gone.

This completely changed my idea of memoir. The strange simplicity of just writing about your childhood for the sake of remembering it.

My first lecture for my memoir subject widened my idea of memoir, making a very clear point that it isn’t made to stun. Memoir is meant for the writer, more so than it is for the reader. It can be anything from your first bee sting to your first love, dependent on what you want to retell. It’s the exploration of deep past that may have been forgotten, or the retelling of our own experience being a part of the human condition.

Everyone’s experience of life is intrinsically unique, which means no matter how basic or common you believe your stories may be, there is something entirely new about them if you give yourself the time to write.

Obviously since I’m getting graded on the subject, my time doesn’t feel wasted when I’m writing memoir, which is the common reason why you will find yourself ignoring it. But if there’s a day where you can’t seem to get out of a slump or hardly want to be awake at all, finding yourself with a pen and paper or by a screen to start the retelling of good memories can really improve your current outlook.

It can be just 100 words. No one has to know you even do it, but if you do, it can change your perception of the life you’re living for the better. So write your own memoir; share the stories you have to tell. Even if it’s just with yourself.