The (Wo)Man in the Arena

I have been obsessed with women’s memoirs for the past 5 years or so. I tried to read or listen to every single one that I can. What bothers me is how critical we can be of other women’s stories. I understand being critical of writing (to a point, but I do not want to waste the space to discuss it here), but I cannot get on board with trashing someone’s life experience.

Now I had to find out the difference between an autobiography and a memoir. Skip this and the next few grafs if you do not need this info. As it turns out, there is not much difference between the two and the words have become interchangeable. The key differences, according to the internet, seem to be this:

 An autobiography is a chronological, factual story that covers a subject’s entire life to the point of publication. While it is written by the subject, there can be assistance from another writer or writers.

 Memoirs have an emotional bent to a particular life experience and how that colors the rest of the subject’s life after it. They are less formal and may skip all of the chronology. Memoirs are almost always authored by the subject because of their emotional focus.

As a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, it irks me so much that people hate Eat, Pray, Love. That was what she went through. Maybe you think she is whiny or you do not agree with her life choices, but it is your choice to put the book down. It is your time, and if you find a memoir a waste, then stop reading it. It reminds me of Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech I have talked about before:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…”

Are you sharing your life story? Are you comparing it against Liz Gilbert’s? And if so, why are you doing that? Get out there and tell your own story. Or make up stories, hell do SOMETHING productive. As someone who has spent the last 2 years reading memoirs trying to find someone with the same story as me, I finally figured it out.

That story does not exist.

I have to own my story and it is my responsibility to share it. As it is in therapy, it may not help anyone, but it helps me to tell it, to talk about it and to acknowledge that I lived it. And in the event that it does help one person, then that is a bonus. If you listen to Liz Gilbert’s podcast, Magic Lessons, you will see that she was shocked-SHOCKED-that Eat, Pray, Love took off and had a life of its own. And she had no idea that so many women would identify with her story and her feelings. While that is inspiring, that commercial (and spiritual even) success should not keep you from telling your story or your truth. I certainly know it will not prevent me from telling mine.

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